What is cancer and how does it start?

The word ‘Cancer’ raises many questions in people’s minds. Being an Oncologist, I have observed several misconceptions surrounding cancer’s development and it’s time I debunk them!

The human body is made of structural units called ‘cells’ that regulate all bodily functions from respiration to digestion, etc. Normally, cells divide to form new cells to replace the old or damaged ones. This process is called ‘cell division’ that is controlled by factors called ‘genes’.

So, What is Cancer?

Cancer can develop in any cell of the body which begin to divide within stopping and form solid tumors which spread into surrounding tissue.

It occurs when the genes that control cell division undergo ‘mutations’ (changes) which may be inherited, developed over time, or due to exposure to toxins like cigarette smoke, alcohol, and ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.

What leads to the development of cancer?

When gene mutations happen, they turn the cells from normal cells into cancer cells. Cancer cells start to grow uncontrollably and abnormally. Old or damaged cells survive when they should die, and new cells form when they are not needed.

You must have heard of ‘tumours’. Right?

These tumors develop when all the extra cells grow without stopping. Not all tumors lead to cancer as they can be benign (grow but don’t spread to other parts) or malignant (spread to other body parts).

If we look from a broad perspective, there are two main kinds of cancer:

  1. Hematologic cancers, that are cancers of the blood cells, like leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma.
  1. Solid tumor cancers, that are cancers of any of the other body organs or tissues like breast, prostate, lung, and colorectal cancers.

All cancers are alike in some ways, but can be different in the ways they grow, spread, and respond to treatment! You must be careful enough to diagnose them properly.

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