Cancer is one of the most common diseases in the world. Almost everyone knows someone who got sick or died from cancer. Cancer could develop at any age but it is much more common with people who are older. This is because our cells can get damaged over time. This damage can build up as we age, and can sometimes lead to cancer. However, with the rapid advancement of science and technology to detect and treat cancer, a greater number of people are outliving the disease.
Cancer is not just one but a group of many related diseases that takes place when the growth of the cells are not normal and spread very rapidly. Normal body cells grow and divide to make more cells only when the body needs them. But cancer cells are different.
- Cancer cells have gene mutations that turn the cell from a normal cell into a cancer cell.
- A cancer cell doesn’t act like a normal cell. It starts to grow and divide out of control instead of dying when it should.
- Cancer cells usually group or clump together to form tumours and a growing tumour becomes a lump of cancer cells that can destroy the normal cells around the tumour and damage the body’s healthy tissues.
- As cancer cells divide, a tumour will develop and grow. Cancer cells have the same needs as normal cells. As a tumour grows, it needs more blood to bring oxygen and other nutrients to the cancer cells. The cancer cells send signals for a tumour to make new blood vessels.
- When tumours grow and get bigger. It also leads cancer cells to get into the blood and spread more easily to other parts of the body which is called metastasis.
Cancers are divided into five main categories according to the type of cells:
- Carcinoma (cancer that starts from tissues that form an organ such as skin, lung, liver, breast, intestine, breast, cervix, ovary, etc.)
- Brain and spinal cord cancers
- Leukaemia (cancer that starts in blood-forming tissue such as bone marrow or more commonly known as cancers of blood cells)
- Lymphoma and myeloma (cancers that starts in the cells of the immune system)
- Sarcoma (cancer that starts in the connective tissues such as bone, cartilage, muscle, fat or blood vessels.
Cancer cells are a result of errors occur during cell division or because of damaged DNA caused by environmental exposures. Till date, we are still unable to pinpoint an exact cause of cancer, but there are plenty of studies and researches that support certain risk factors that may increase the chances of developing cancer.
The strongest association to the direct cause of cancer are cancer-causing substances such as:
- Chemicals in tobacco smoke
- Radiation such as ultraviolet sun rays
- Air pollution
- Chemicals from the workplace such as asbestos, benzene, formaldehyde, wood dust, etc.
Other risk factors include:
- Physical inactivity
- Dietary habit
- HPV (human papillomavirus)
- Inherited genes and etc.
With the latest advances in screening and medical diagnosis, a doctor can detect if you are likely to have cancer. The doctor can then recommend tests such as X-ray and blood test as well as recommend a cancer specialist or oncologist for further tests to determine what kind of cancer you have and if it has spread to other parts of the body. Based on the results, a specialist will decide the best way to treat your cancer.
One test that a specialist may perform is a biopsy where a piece of tissue is removed from a tumour or a place in the body where cancer is suspected, like the bone marrow. The sample that’s collected will then be examined under a microscope for cancer cells. It’s important to remember that the sooner cancer is found and treatment begins, the better your chances are for a full recovery and cure.
Cancer is usually treated with surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy or sometimes a combination of these treatments. The choice of treatment depends on the type of cancer you have and the stage of the tumour.
- Surgery is a procedure which is performed by an experienced surgeon that removes the growth of cancer from your body.
- Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer medicines to treat cancer. The medicines are sometimes taken as a pill, but usually, are given through a special intravenous line.
- Radiotherapy is a treatment where radiation is used to kill cancer cells. There are many different ways you can have radiotherapy, but they all work in a similar way. They damage cancer cells and stop them from growing or spreading in the body.
- Targeted therapies are drugs or other elements that block the development and spread of cancer by interfering with specific molecules (“molecular targets”) that are involved in the growth, progression and spread of cancer. At times, targeted therapy is called “molecularly targeted drugs,” “molecularly targeted therapies,” “precision medicines,” or similar names. Treatment with these drugs is called targeted therapy.
- Immunotherapy is a form of cancer treatment that uses or helps your immune system to fight cancer. It is a type of biological therapy and this type of treatment uses substances made from living organisms to treat cancer. The main forms of immunotherapy now being used to treat cancer include:
- Monoclonal antibodies, which are drugs that are designed to bind to specific targets in the body. They can cause an immune response that destroys cancer cells. Other types of monoclonal antibodies can “mark” cancer cells so it is easier for the immune system to find and destroy them. These types of monoclonal antibodies are also referred to as targeted therapy.
- Cytokines, which are proteins that are made by your body’s cells. They play important roles in the body’s normal immune responses and also in the immune system’s ability to respond to cancer.
- Treatment Vaccines, which work against cancer by boosting your immune system’s response to cancer cells. Treatment vaccines are different from the ones that help prevent disease.