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What is Cancer? – Let us understand Cancer!

Cancer is perceived as a dreadful disease. Are there reasons to fear cancer? Both Yes and No are the answers to this simple yet complex question. A thorough understanding of what is cancer and how it manifests is required to answer questions on cancer. Let us dig in.

What is Cancer?

When some cells become abnormal and rogue, multiply beyond control and they crowd out so much that they begin to outnumber the normal cells, they are called cancerous growth, and the condition is termed cancer.

Where does cancerous growth of cells happen?

In the human body, almost any organ or part of the body can be affected by cancer. It includes bones, skin, blood, and almost every organ that include heart and brain too. Wait, but is not heart cancer unheard of? True that. There are some organs where the cancer occurrence rate is rare to extremely rare. Those organs are heart, spleen, and appendix. The occurrence of cancer in these three organs though rare, there are solid records of their existence.

How cancer cells divide and multiply?

Healthy cells and cancer cells have one thing in common. They both need nutrients to grow. So they need a blood supply to keep them alive and growing. When cancer cells begin to multiply out of control, they form a considerable size (about the size of a grain of sugar). Now, these tufts of cancer cells are called tumors. So once the tumor reaches a size it is away from the blood vessel and demands more nutrients. They begin emitting chemical signals asking the blood vessel to outgrow and reach them. The body responds to the signals and begins the process of growing a blood capillary from the nearest blood vessel. In this way, the tumor gets hold of more nutrients needed to grow much bigger. In a way, it fools our immune system to only outgrow the normal cells only to destroy them. In the next stage, the cancer cells in the tumor break away and travel to another part of the body through the bloodstream. This is how primarily the spreading of cancer happens.

What are the common types of cancer?

Every region of the world has different common types of cancers that affect its people. This is because of the presence of different carcinogens present in the environment and food, and certain other less understood factors like hereditary factors, virus (oncovirus), etc.

From data available with WHO, an equal number of people are diagnosed with lung cancer and breast cancer. Next are colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, skin cancer, and stomach cancer. In terms of death, lung cancer stands number one, followed by colorectal cancer, stomach cancer, and liver cancer. Though more people are diagnosed with breast cancer, most do not die from it. Breast cancer happens mostly in females and early diagnosis of cancer is able to prevent death from happening.

In India though, stomach cancer has more incidence than any other cancer type. Breast cancer, lung cancer, and oral cancer come next. The cause of oral cancer can be solely attributed to chewing tobacco.

In Tamil Nadu, more people are diagnosed with breast cancer than other types of cancers. The next commonly diagnosed cancer types in Tamil Nadu are stomach cancer, lung cancer, oral cancer, cervical cancer, oesophageal cancer, Leukemia (blood cancer), and other types of cancer.

Is cancer curable?

It is a complex question. It depends on the stage of cancer and the organs where cancer has manifested. Yes, if the presence of cancer is detected in the early stages, cancer is completely curable for types like breast cancer. But in general, early detection places a major role in the successful treatment of cancer. With early detection, low grade and early stage of cancer, the cancer patient’s survival rate is always better. We will try and understand the stages of cancer and each individual type of cancer in our next blogs.

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