Cancer? What is it ?

I think we all know that cancer is a killer. After all, according to Discovery fit and health site, it is the second leading cause of death in the United States next to the heart disease. However, do you know how cancer actually works?

This devastating disease is in effect, an uncontrolled cell division. Such rapid division may lead to tumours and range of different problems that come with them, but what causes cells to abandon their very precise nuclear division patterns and to launch into such overdrive? The answer lays within the molecules contained in the nucleus of a cell- the DNA. The rapid splitting up of the cells is caused by dangerous mutations of the cell’s DNA. During the mutation of DNA, the original piece of genetic code is removed and substituted by new and different one. While majority of mutations are not dangerous, some multiple ones can lead to disturbance in division patterns of the cells causing them to divide unrestrained to form aggressively growing group of cancerous cells. Our body however has defence mechanisms that are there in place to combat dangerous cell mutations. Each cell has a code in the DNA that will cause it to produce repair proteins if a mutation occurs. These in turn can often restore DNA of the cell to its original state. Auto destruction of the cell (apoptosis) can be triggered if its DNA has been damaged or altered beyond its repair. Sometimes, unfortunately, the very codes that trigger the aforementioned defensive responses can be mutated. That is when the cancer can really develop.  Many factors can cause cells to mutate including, excessive exposure to sun, smoking and breathing in the carcinogens. In fact it is impossible to avoid cell DNA mutations from occurring, even when following all the precautions.

But if a cancerous tumour forms, what is the problem? Why is it so dangerous? After all it’s just a lump of cells. In fact many tumours can grow very large and thus interfere with digestive, nervous, and circulatory systems. Some of them can even produce hormones, altering the way in which body functions.

There are two types of Tumours:

  1. Benign tumour- These are the tumours that often show very limited growth and cells within it stay inside tumour. Treatment of this type of tumour involves surgical removal of it.
  1. Malignant tumour- This type of tumour is much more dangerous, as the cells within it often use their enzymes to break free from the tumour and move into the host’s blood or lymph system spreading the cancer around the whole body. Such cells are very difficult to pinpoint, thus treatment of this type of tumour is surgical removal of the tumour, followed by radiotherapy, or chemotherapy to kill off the moving cells. When a tumor successfully spreads to other parts of the body and grows, invading and destroying other healthy tissues, it is said to have metastasized.

In nutshell, cancer is an uncontrolled division of cells, which is caused by mutations to the cell’s DNA. The resultant tumours interfere with other, healthy body functions and can be categorised as benign or malignant.

Article written by Hubert Bieluczyk

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