Cancer, an uncontrolled growth of body’s bad cells, occurs in all kinds of living organisms – whether plants or animals.
To the Romans of long ago, cancer means crab. The ancient Greeks termed it karkinos due to the cell’s clawlike invasion from its original site. Zodiac believers, however, knew cancer as the relative position of the stars that influenced events based on a person’s birth. But to medical researchers, cancer is a big threat to health and life.
When the body cells divide at an abnormally fast rate, cell division becomes harmful. Single cells become wild and duplicate themselves by forming larger mass of new tissues called tumors. Some tumors are benign; that is, the abnormal growths are confined or limited to single enlargements. They may not all be harmful. Benign tumors are surrounded by thin tissues or membranes that prevent the growth of other tumors. They keep the killer cells from spreading into other parts of the body. Still other tumors are classified malignant. Malignant tumors are not part of any membrane. They grow and spread rapidly and invade other normal tissues of the body. Malignant cells destroy normal cells and disturb their normal growth. Such tumors are dangerous if not detected or stopped at the earliest stage.
Cancer spreads when malignant cells travel to different parts of the body. The blood that carries bad cells when pumped by the heart runs to the blood tubes then goes to the lungs, intestines, kidneys, and moves back to the heart. That is why, humans suffer from more than a hundred different kinds of cancer when the attack of bad cells enters the weak organs. A family of disease, cancer has three main types: carcinoma, sarcoma, and leukemia or lymphoma.
Carcinoma attacks the skin, the skinlike linings of the lungs, stomach, intestines and other internal organs and glands. Sarcoma is the name given to cancers of the connective tissues: bones, cartilage, and fats. Cancer of the bone marrow, blood, and the lymphatic system are termed leukemia and lymphoma.
The importance of studying cancer as a health problem is indicated by the fact that cancer is one of the world’s killer disease. In the United States alone, the death rate caused by cancer rose to 90 percent in people of over 40 years old. The increase is due to more accurate reporting of the cause of death. The basis for the overall rate or range of cancer cannot be specifically identified as the real cause for alarm. Many factors must be considered. Cancer researchers discovered that carcinogens are present in homes, school, and working environment due to pollution and improper hygiene.
Men and women, young and old, rich and poor are not spared or exempted from cancer, due to excessive smoking, is the leading cause of death among males worldwide. Children suffer from liver cancer which they get from food flavourings and artificial sweeteners. There are now many foods said to trigger off cancer. They are classified as carcinogens. These include some food preservatives. X-ray machine operators are harmed by excessive exposure to radiation.
Under special cases, many other factors play an important role in the development of cancer. Alcohol, for example, when taken in large amounts, appears to promote cancer of the larynx. Prolonged stay under the heat of the sun may trigger off skin cancer. Women are afflicted with breast cancer if parents are carriers of bad genes, specifically in families with history of the disease. In a recent U.S. study, researchers said that lack of one copy of chromosomes no. 17 may trigger breast cancer. A standard breast X-ray or mammogram detects trouble before tumors start to form. Most high-risked women opt to have their healthy breast removed through mastectomy to prevent breast cancer cells from spreading. But some surgeons say that even a total mastectomy is likely to leave some breast cells behind. To date, more and more researches are needed to find out the relation between cancer and heredity.
Since the cure of cancer depends on its early discovery, known facts or patterns are very essential. The American Cancer Society has widely publicized seven dangers or warning signals of cancer. Any person who has any of the following should seek medical help at once:
• unusual bleeding or discharge in man’s or woman’s reproductive organs
• a lump or thickening in the breast or elsewhere
• a wound or sore that does not heal
• unusual change in bowel movement
• a persistent cough or hoarseness
• continuous indigestion or difficulty in swallowing
• the physical change in mole or wart
Periodic and quick attention to these symptoms may lead to the effective, uncomplicated, inexpensive, and complete removal of a malignant tumor. Regular physical check up for women should include careful examination of the breast and pop smear or checking the presence of carcinoma in the uterine cervix. Men should see their doctors when difficulty in breathing occurs or when there are blood stains when coughing.
As cancer progresses, there are three remedial approaches to prevent it: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. The use of a particular approach is often determined by the type of cancer and the stage of the disease. The surgical method is the oldest of the three. The surgeon’s or operating doctor’s aim is to remove the cancer tissue or affected area completely as in mastectomy. Surgery is not possible at all times, especially if the bad cells have spread to other body parts. To target a specific area of cancer cells, radiation or exposure to a specialized machine is done. The patient is exposed to radioactive rays by sending energy waves to the affected cancer area. Still another promising method is chemotherapy. It is the use of certain drugs or chemicals that effectively destroy breast cancer cells’ growth. One new or latest approach is the combination of chemotherapy and radiation.
Immunotherapy, an experimental way to treat cancer by strengthening the patient’s immune system is getting in the way, too. High cost and expensive equipment are needed to defeat cancer from invading the human population. Medical technology and health programs have yet to learn a lot from the disease.