What is cancer and how does it occur?

What is cancer and how does it occur? Cancer is a malignant proliferation of cells in the body. But what exactly is cancer and how does it occur?

It all starts with the cell division of the body: Your body consists of billions of cells that age and create new cells. This process continues all the time. Sometimes an error occurs during this cell division: for example, too many cells are created. Usually, a protection mechanism resolves these errors. When the protective mechanism has done its job, the cells then continue to divide normally. Occasionally, protection mechanisms do not work, due to damage (for example smoking ) or by chance. Errors are not repaired at that point, which sometimes causes a cell to divide uncontrollably. This creates growth or tumor. Blood cells can also divide uncontrollably when blood tests show too many abnormal cells in the blood.

Malignant or benign tumor?

A benign tumor is a growth that does not grow through other tissues and organs. For example a wart. In general, benign growths are harmless. However, the growth can press against other organs or tissues, leading some people to have it removed. A benign tumor is not cancer. A malignant tumor does grow to other tissues and organs. The cells can also end up elsewhere in the body through the blood or the lymphatic system. The cells grow into new tumors in a different place. This is also called metastasis.

Types of cancer: from bone cancer to colon cancer

There are hundreds of types of cancer. One species is more common than the other species. For example, (almost) everyone has heard of colon cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, blood cancer, and skin cancer. These are common types of cancer. Rarer cancers are, for example, chondrosarcoma ( bone cancer ) and nasal cancer.

Cancer symptoms

Many cancer symptoms also occur with other conditions. For that reason, it is difficult to detect cancer immediately. If complaints persist for more than four weeks, it is wise to call in a doctor. Examples of cancer symptoms are:

  • Swallowing complaints: pain while swallowing or eating does not subside properly
  • Lump on the skin or flaky skin
  • Abnormal discharge or unusual vaginal bleeding
  • Urinating problems: more difficult urination, blood in the urine, more frequent urination, painful urination
  • Anemia: dizziness, feeling weak and tired, short of breath, ringing in the ears, headache, palpitations, paleness, sweating, feeling of fainting
  • Persistent cough or hoarseness and blood in coughed-up mucus
  • Changing or new moles
  • Lump or bulge in the body
  • Long-term change in bowel habits: diarrhea, the alternation between constipation and diarrhea, blood in the stool
  • Unexpected weight loss

When to see the doctor?

If you suspect cancer, you can always call in the doctor. For example, do you notice a change in your skin that you cannot place? Then consult your doctor. Do complaints persist for more than four weeks and do you not know what the cause is? Then it is wise to contact your doctor. If you suspect cancer, the doctor will refer you to the hospital for further examination.

Cancer treatments

There are various treatments for cancer. Common treatments are discussed below:

  • Operation: During operation, the tumor or part of the tumor is removed. Sometimes the lymph nodes near the tumor are also removed. After surgery, additional treatment may sometimes be required.
  • Image-guided treatments. These treatments are performed using an MRI scan, CT scan, X-ray, or ultrasound. Image-guided treatments take place as little as possible within the body, making the operation less invasive. Examples of image-guided treatments are cryotherapy and heat ablation (tumor cells are heated, causing them to die).
  • Radiation destroys tumor cells. The radiation doctor tries to spare the healthy cells during radiation, but unfortunately, usually, a number of healthy cells are affected during radiation.
  • Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy consists of drugs. These drugs (cytostatics) counteract cell growth in cancer.
  • Targeted Therapy. Targeted therapy inhibits or kills tumor cells through drugs. Targeted therapy usually affects less healthy cells than chemotherapy.
  • Hormonal Therapy. In certain forms of cancer (for example prostate cancer or breast cancer) the tumor cells are partly dependent on sex hormones. With hormonal therapy, you are given drugs that reduce the effect of these sex hormones.
  • In this treatment, cancer cells are heated for an hour (to about forty degrees). This heating makes cancer cells more sensitive to other treatments. Healthy cells can withstand this temperature.
  • Immunotherapy. Your immune system is stimulated by means of medicines and therefore made stronger. This allows the immune system to kill tumor cells better.
  • Stem cell transplant. Stem cell therapy destroys diseased cells from the patient and replaces them with healthy stem cells.

What can you do about cancer yourself?

Five years after diagnosis, about 60% of people with cancer are still alive. This percentage varies greatly depending on the type of cancer and mainly depends on how far cancer has expanded in the diagnosis. Of course, you’d rather avoid getting cancer. But you can never prevent cancer with 100% certainty. There are risk factors that can cause cancer. It is, therefore, better to avoid these risk factors:

  • To smoke
  • Drink a lot of alcohol
  • Unsafe sex
  • Carcinogenic substances
  • Not enough exercise
  • Overexposure to the sun
  • Eating unhealthy

A common cancer is lung cancer. Lung cancer is caused, among other things, by smoking. If you don’t smoke, you can therefore reduce the risk of lung cancer. This also applies to other risk factors. For example, (too much) alcohol can increase the risk of liver cancer and breast cancer, for example. Cancer is also sometimes caused by viruses or bacteria that are sexually transmitted. For example, the HPV virus causes cervical cancer. And some people come into contact with carcinogenic substances through their work without knowing in advance. An example of a carcinogenic substance is asbestos. Inadequate exercise, overexposure to the sun, and unhealthy eating can also increase the likelihood of errors during cell division.

Does not affect certain causes of cancer

Unfortunately, you have no influence on some causes of cancer. Examples of this are:

  • Heredity . Certain cancers often run in families. Is this the case with your family? Then consult your doctor whether heredity actually occurs in your family.
  • Age . The older you get, the more cell division takes place. This increases the chance that errors occur during cell division, which can lead to cancer. It is also more likely that the protection systems will be damaged, so that the systems cannot intervene in the event of uninhibited cell division.
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