What is cancer? How does it affect the body?
Cancer is a highly complex disease; the term covers over one hundred cellular disorders that can affect nearly all areas of the body. Personally, both my mother and father were afflicted with cancer – my mother had ovarian cancer, my father had basal cell carcinoma skin cancer. Both are survivors. It can be a silent killer at times, involving many risk factors and triggers that many people are unawares of. Cells begin to multiply out of control, causing tumors and literally suffocating other vital organs in the body. At the present time, there is no known definite treatment, making surviving this ravenous disease all the more difficult. On a positive note, there are many ways to manage cancer, sometimes banishing it altogether. By undergoing certain therapies and altering your lifestyle, certain cancer varieties have a high survival-rate.
The root cause of cancer begins in your cells. For a functioning, healthy human-being, old or worn cells divide and are then replaced by their offspring when they die. When a person is afflicted with cancer, this once-normal process of cell division begins to spiral out of control. This is true for every cancer variety – from pancreatic to lung. Instead of passing on when worn out, these abnormal cells continue to live on and reproduce, usually resulting in a mass of abnormal cells known as a tumor. These cells can then invade other bodily tissues and spread to vital organs.
Cancer cells begin abnormally multiplying due to their DNA structure. It is flawed, and continues to cause a cell to reproduce even when the body does not need new cells. In a normal cell, when DNA becomes flawed or damaged, it either attempts to repair itself or dies. Rather, cancer cells continue to divide and pass the faulty DNA onto its offspring. Because DNA is inheritable, people who have parents or relatives with certain forms of cancer may be more likely to develop the disease.
How does cancer spread?
The spread of cancer is known as metastasis. Benign (non-cancerous) tumors do not metastasize to other areas of the body, and thus are rarely life-threatening. Malignant (cancerous) tumors, on the other hand, can spread quite rapidly. When this occurs, an individual’s chances of survival drop considerably. When cancer cells break away from the primary tumor and make their way into the lymphatic system and bloodstream, they’re transported to other areas of the body. There take root and begin to form new tumors. These cancers cells can even begin to replace our own bodily tissues. They can travel and grow anywhere in the human body, but the most commons locales are the lungs, liver, brain, and bones. Once a tumor has metastasized, especially to vital organs and tissues, it becomes highly difficult to remove.
What can cause cancer?
Most people know that tobacco use causes cancer. But do they know that diet, exercise, heredity, and sun exposure all play apart in your risk for developing this disease? Carcinogens can even be found lurking around the home or workplace. As many are familiar with tobacco being a carcinogen, it is one of the preventable causes of death in the United States. Over 30% of cancer-related fatalities are caused by smoking, as are nine out of ten cases of lung cancer. It is a leading cause of death by cancer in both men and women. Nearly 21% of all adults smoke, and the shameful part is that these fatalities can be so easily prevented. By simply making an intelligent decision and never becoming addicted in the first place, hundreds of thousands of lives can be spared each year.
On a similar note, research has also shown that diet and exercise contribute to one’s cancer risk – another factor that is easily manipulated. Diet-related factors that heighten this risk include being overweight or obese, eating a diet full of red meat and preservatives, consuming two or more bottles of alcohol per day, consuming very hot, salty drinks or food, and aflatoxins. Aflatoxins are fungi that can be found on certain foods, such as grains and nuts. Recently, substantial evidence has linked obesity and inadequate exercise to nearly all forms of cancer, including oesophagus, colorectum, breast, endometrium and kidney.
Most people are knowledgeable to the fact that smoking tobacco and being overweight contribute to one’s risk of cancer development, but many are unawares that the sun can cause several forms of skin cancer. In fact, harmful overexposure to the sun’s UV rays is also causing us to age. There are three main forms of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma – the two latter being quite treatable and harmless. Unfortunately, melanoma is the cause of 75% of the deaths related to skin cancer. It can spread to other organs in the body and can be difficult to manage. Your best bet is to steer clear from tanning beds, and also wear a sufficient sunscreen when planning to be outdoors for a while.
It is often difficult for scientists to pinpoint the exact factor in an environment or lifestyle that caused cancer in an individual. There are hundreds of thousands of man-made chemicals used in the home each day; narrowing down to the exact cause is near impossible. In addition to that, there are also natural factors that can be considered as carcinogens, such as the aforementioned fungi known as aflatoxins. Carcinogens can even be created during the combustion or synthesis of other chemicals, further broadening the range of possibilities.
Making Lifestyle Changes
Fortunately, cancer can be prevented or lessened in most cases by simply implementing a lifestyle or environmental change. Many causes of cancer originate from a poor lifestyle or unhealthy environmental conditions in the first place and thus are often preventable. It’s wise to eat a healthy diet full of variety. Cut out most the red meat that you consume and instead choose to snack on fruits and veggies. Unsalted nuts, like almonds and cashews, as well as whole grain breads and crackers also make excellent snacks. Stay away from fatty fast foods, and purchase all reduced or low-fat diary products. Do your best to be active for at least an hour a day – whether it’s jogging, swimming, bike riding, really anything! Steer clear from harmful tanning beds, and always be sure to wear a heavy-duty sunscreen if you plan on spending hours out in the sun. If necessary wear sunglasses of a wide-brimmed hat to protect your sensitive face an eyes from UV damage. And, last but not least, never pick up that habit of using cigarettes, cigars, or other tobacco products!
Recent studies have uncovered convincing evidence that exercise is one of your best bets in keeping your cancer risk low. Although, exercise in relation to cancer has not been wholly entirely explored yet, researchers have found that exercise not only boosts the morals and mental stability of cancer patients, but it also increases their chances of survival. In a study conducted in the University of North Carolina, participation in Tai Chi helped twenty one cancer patients recover both physically and emotionally from the ordeal. Exercise helps improve heart and lung function, strength, flexibility, as well as improving the mood and adding to one’s self-esteem and quality of life.
American Cancer Society. “Learn About Cancer” & “Stay Healthy.” Cancer.org.
National Cancer Institute. “Metastatic Cancer: Q&A.” Cancer.gov.
World Health Organization (WHO). “Cancer: Diet & Physical Activity’s Impact.” Who.int.
WebMD. “Sun Exposure and Skin Cancer.” Webmd.com.
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. “Cancer & the Environment.” Niehs.nih.gov.
Science Daily. “Another Weapon for Beating Cancer: Exercise.” Sciencedaily.com.