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What is Cancer?

Cancer is a term used for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and are able to invade other tissues. Cancer is not just one disease but a term used for a group of diseases with similar makeup. There are more than 100 different types of cancer. Most cancers are named for the organ or type of cell in which they start - for example, cancer that begins in the breast is called breast cancer. Cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems.

Understanding Cancer

Human body is made up of Cells, the structural, functional and biological unit of all organisms. All cancers begin in the Cells. To understand the behavior of cancer, we need to look into the transformation of normal cells to cancer cells, which happens during the process of cell growth and division.

Normal body cells grow, divide, and die in an orderly way. During the early years of a person's life, normal cells divide faster to allow the person to grow. After the person becomes an adult, most cells divide only to replace worn-out, damaged, or dying cells. However, sometimes this orderly process goes wrong. Cancer begins when cells in a part of the body start to grow out of control. The genetic material (DNA) of a cell can become damaged or changed, producing mutations that affect normal cell growth and division. When this happens, cells do not die when they should and new cells form when the body does not need them. The extra cells may form a mass of tissue called a tumor.

Not all tumors are cancerous; tumors can be benign or malignant. Benign tumors are not cancerous. They often can be removed, and, in most cases, they do not come back. Cells in benign tumors do not spread to other parts of the body.

Malignant tumors are cancerous.
Cells in these tumors can invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body. When cancer cells get into the bloodstream or lymph vessels, they can travel to other parts of the body. There they begin to grow and form new tumors that replace normal tissue. This process is called metastasis (muh-tas-tuh-sis). Some cancers do not form tumors. For example, leukemia is a cancer of the bone marrow and blood.

Cancer Control

How Is Cancer Diagnosed?
The earlier cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better the chance of it being cured. Some types of cancer -- Skin, Breast, Mouth, Testicular, Prostate, and Rectal -- may be detected by routine self-exam or other screening measures before the symptoms become serious. Most cases of cancer are detected and diagnosed after a tumor can be felt or when other symptoms develop. In a few cases, cancer is diagnosed incidentally as a result of evaluating or treating other medical conditions.

Cancer diagnosis begins with a thorough physical exam and an evaluation of an individual's complete medical history. Reliable methods of diagnosis include:
a) Lab studies of blood, urine, and stool that can detect abnormalities indicating the possible presence of cancer.
b) Imaging tests such as X-rays, Computed Tomography (CT), Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Ultrasound, and Fiber-optic Scope exams.
Imaging methods help doctors determine the cancer's location and size. To confirm the cancer diagnosis, a biopsy is performed: A tissue sample is surgically removed from the suspected malignancy and studied under a microscope to check for cancer cells.

What Is Cancer Screening?

Checking for cancer (or for conditions that may lead to cancer) in people who have no symptoms is called screening. Screening can help doctors find and treat some types of cancer early. Some types of cancer can be found before they cause symptoms. Generally, cancer treatment is more effective when the disease is found early. However, not all types of cancer have screening tests and some tests are only for people with specific genetic risks.
For the following types of cancer, research shows that regular screening tests / examinations will drastically reduce mortality:

- Breast Cancer
- Cervical Cancer
- Colon and Rectal Cancer

Awareness of cancer, Screening for early detection and proper / timely treatment can save lives and improve the quality of life of patients and families.

What Are the Treatments for Cancer?

Depending on the type and stage of cancer, treatment attempts to eradicate or slow the cancer. These attempts may include some combination of surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and possibly hormone therapy or immunotherapy. When cancer is no longer detected, a patient is said to be in remission. Generally, patients who remain cancer-free for five or more years are considered cured. Some cancers cannot be cured, but all can be treated, and in many cases the patient will improve.


Common Cancer Myths

1. The chance you'll die of cancer increases every year
More people are being diagnosed with cancer these days, but medical advances have improved survival rates and overall quality of life for cancer patients. The five-year survival rate for all cancers combined has shown steady improvement over the past three decades, and more than 60 percent of people diagnosed with cancer are still alive five years after diagnosis. There's been a steady decrease in the number of people dying from cancer, even as the overall population of the United States has increased.

2. You're more likely to develop lung cancer from urban air pollution than from smoking cigarettes
Breathing the air of a polluted city is much less likely to cause lung cancer than smoking cigarettes or being frequently exposed to secondhand smoke. The numbers speak for themselves: Nearly 9 in 10 lung cancers, or about 87 percent, result either from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke.

3. If you are diagnosed with cancer, you will probably die cigarettes
Cancer is not a death sentence. There are many effective treatments. In fact, more than 60% of people with cancer survive five years or more after the initial diagnosis.
4. Cancer is contagious

Cancer is NOT contagious (capable of spreading from person to person through contact). However, some cancers may be caused by viruses. The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted disease that can increase the risk of cervical, anal, and some types of head and neck cancers. Meanwhile, hepatitis B and hepatitis C viruses transmitted by infected intravenous needles and sexual activity can increase the chance of liver cancer.

5. Cell phones cause brain cancer
As of yet, there is no credible evidence that exposure to electromagnetic fields emitted from cell phones or other personal electronics can cause cancer. One recent study found that cell phone users had no elevated risk for a number of different cancers, even if they'd been using the phones for a decade or more. More research is ongoing, but for now the risk seems minimal.

6. Cancer treatment is usually worse than the disease.
Although cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation are known to have some side effects that can be unpleasant and sometimes dangerous, recent advances have resulted in many chemotherapy drugs and radiation treatments that are much better tolerated than past treatments. Symptoms like severe nausea and vomiting, hair loss, and tissue damage are much less common these days. For each patient, oncologists always try to balance the known risks and side effects of the treatment with the expected benefits.
Everyone is at risk for being misled by false information. It is very important to check new information with a credible source before acting on it.

BOTTOM LINE

Don't assume that everything you read is always true. As with any health news or tips, you should do research to determine if the information is evidence-based.

Don't rely on claims that a product has been studied--look up study results yourself or ask your health care provider. When you are a well-informed health care consumer, it is easier to determine which cancer causes are myths and which are facts.

References:
a) United States National Institute of Health (www.cancer.gov)
b) American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org)
c) WebMD Online dictionary (www.webmd.com)
d) Planet Cancer (http://www.planetcancer.org/)
e) Cancer.net (http://www.cancer.net)

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