Cancer, known medically as a malignant neoplasm, is a broad group of diseases involving unregulated cell growth. In cancer, cells divide and grow uncontrollably, forming malignant tumors, and invade nearby parts of the body. The cancer may also spread to more distant parts of the body through the lymphatic system or bloodstream. Not all tumors are cancerous; benign tumors do not invade neighboring tissues and do not spread throughout the body. There are over 200 different known cancers that affect humans.
The causes of cancer are diverse, complex, and only partially understood. Many things are known to increase the risk of cancer, including tobacco use, dietary factors, certain infections, exposure to radiation, lack of physical activity, obesity, and environmental pollutants. These factors can directly damage genes or combine with existing genetic faults within cells to cause cancerous mutations.Approximately 5–10% of cancers can be traced directly to inherited genetic defects. Many cancers could be prevented by not smoking, eating more vegetables, fruits and whole grains, eating less meat and refined carbohydrates, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, minimizing sunlight exposure, and being vaccinated against some infectious diseases.
Cancer can be detected in a number of ways, including the presence of certain signs and symptoms, screening tests, or medical imaging. Once a possible cancer is detected it is diagnosed by microscopic examination of a tissue sample. Cancer is usually treated with chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery. The chances of surviving the disease vary greatly by the type and location of the cancer and the extent of disease at the start of treatment. While cancer can affect people of all ages, and a few types of cancer are more common in children, the risk of developing cancer generally increases with age. In 2007, cancer caused about 13% of all human deaths worldwide (7.9 million). Rates are rising as more people live to an old age and as mass lifestyle changes occur in the developing world.
There is no one definition that describes all cancers. They are a large family of diseases which form a subset of neoplasms, which show some features that suggest of malignancy. A neoplasm or tumor is a group of cells that have undergone unregualated growth, and will often form a mass or lump, but may be distributed diffusely.
Six characteristics of malignancies have been proposed: sustaining proliferative signaling, evading growth suppressors, resisting cell death, enabling replicative immortality, inducing angiogenesis, and activating invasion and metastasis. The progression from normal cells to cells that can form a discernible mass to outright cancer involves multiple steps.
Signs and Symptoms:
When cancer begins it invariably produces no symptoms with signs and symptoms only appearing as the mass continues to grow or ulcerates. The findings that result depend on the type and location of the cancer. Few symptoms are specific, with many of them also frequently occurring in individuals who have other conditions. Cancer is the new “great imitator”. Thus it is not uncommon for people diagnosed with cancer to have been treated for other diseases to which it was assumed their symptoms were due.
Local symptoms may occur due to the mass of the tumor or its ulceration. For example, mass effects from lung cancer can cause blockage of the bronchus resulting in cough or pneumonia; esophageal cancer can cause narrowing of the esophagus, making it difficult or painful to swallow; and colorectal cancer may lead to narrowing or blockages in the bowel, resulting in changes in bowel habits. Masses in breasts or testicles may be easily felt. Ulceration can cause bleeding which, if it occurs in the lung, will lead to coughing up blood, in the bowels to anemia or rectal bleeding, in the bladder to blood in the urine, and in the uterus to vaginal bleeding. Although localized pain may occur in advanced cancer, the initial swelling is usually painless. Some cancers can cause build up of fluid within the chest or abdomen.
General symptoms occur due to distant effects of the cancer that are not related to direct or metastatic spread. These may include: unintentional weight loss, fever, being excessively tired, and changes to the skin. Hodgkin disease, leukemias, and cancers of the liver or kidney can cause a persistent fever of unknown origin.
Specific constellations of systemic symptoms, termed paraneoplastic phenomena, may occur with some cancers. Examples include the appearance of myasthenia gravis in thymoma and clubbing in lung cancer.
Symptoms of metastasis are due to the spread of cancer to other locations in the body. They can include enlarged lymph nodes (which can be felt or sometimes seen under the skin and are typically hard), hepatomegaly (enlarged liver) or splenomegaly (enlarged spleen) which can be felt in the abdomen, pain or fracture of affected bones, and neurological symptoms. Most cancer deaths are due to cancer that has spread from its primary site to other organs (metastasized).
Cancers are primarily an environmental disease with 90–95% of cases attributed to environmental factors and 5–10% due to genetics. Environmental, as used by cancer researchers, means any cause that is not inherited genetically, not merely pollution.Common environmental factors that contribute to cancer death include tobacco (25–30%), diet and obesity (30–35%), infections (15–20%), radiation (both ionizing and non-ionizing, up to 10%), stress, lack of physical activity, and environmental pollutants.
It is nearly impossible to prove what caused a cancer in any individual, because most cancers have multiple possible causes. For example, if a person who uses tobacco heavily develops lung cancer, then it was probably caused by the tobacco use, but since everyone has a small chance of developing lung cancer as a result of air pollution or radiation, then there is a small chance that the cancer developed because of air pollution or radiation.