Frequently Asked Questions About Cancer
What is cancer?
Cancer is a large group of genetic diseases that are characterized by two things: 1) uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells and 2) their ability to spread to other parts of the body. This persistent growth and spread forms lumps (except in leukemia) and masses of tissue called tumors. Those growths crowd out normal cells and impair normal functions of the organs they invade.
What are the two types of tumors and what is the difference?
Tumors can be benign or malignant. Benign tumors are those that do not invade normal tissue and do not spread to other parts of the body. These, though they do not necessarily need to be treated, should be watched carefully for any signs of malignant behavior. Some benign tumors do need to be removed as they obstruct or compress blood vessels, lymph vessels, or nerves. Malignant tumors are those that overrun normal tissue and spread throughout the body. These need to be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible. Malignant tumors are cancerous.
Why does it seem cancer is a modern day problem?
Cancer has actually been around for centuries. The term itself was coined by Hippocrates about 460-370 BC. The first cases of the disease are recorded in papyrus scrolls from 3000 BC. Cancer seems more prevalent these days though and that is for two reasons: 1) medical advancements have improved the diagnosing of the disease, and 2) humans are living longer, and that provides more time for cancer to express itself.
What causes cancer?
Smoking has been shown to cause cancer of the lungs, mouth, throat, and other organs. Excessive sunlight exposure or exposure to UV light increases the risk of skin cancer, and some 5-10 percent of cancers are due to genes which get passed down from your parents. No one really knows the exact cause of most cases of cancer, but lifestyle, exposure risks, and genetics are the primary areas for research.
What are the major risk factors of cancer?
The World Health Organization describes risk factors as “any attribute, characteristic or exposure of an individual that increases the likelihood of developing a disease or injury.” The risk factors for cancer differ for every type of the disease.
Here are the major controllable risk factors:
- Tobacco use
- Physical activity
- Sun exposure
- Environmental exposures, such as, radon, lead, and asbestos
- Exposure to infections such as hepatitis, HPV, and HIV
What are the signs and symptoms of cancer?
Symptoms depend on the type of cancer. They largely depend on where the mass is located, how big it is, and whether the cancer has spread to other organs and parts of the body.
There are general signs and symptoms of cancer though:
- Skin changes
- Unexplained weight loss
What are the most common types of cancer?
Lung cancer is the most common type of cancer, followed by breast cancer and colorectal cancer.
Who gets cancer?
About 1 out of 3 people in the United States will be faced with cancer at sometime in life. Worldwide, about 14.1 million new cases of cancer were reported, and 8.2 million deaths because of it in 2012. About 33% of the cancer cases were linked to tobacco smoke worldwide. Some cancers are more common in females (ex. breast and cervical cancers), some are more common in males (prostate cancers), and some are more common in certain areas of the world.
Is cancer more common in different areas, or is it global?
Cancer is a global phenomenon with particular diseases being more common in some countries more than others.
When in life do people most often get cancer?
Though cancer can occur in any age, it is more common in older people. The American Cancer Society estimates that 9 out of 10 of cases are diagnosed in people ages 50 or older.
Is there a cure for cancer?
Some cancers can now be cured. “Cure” means to “relieve someone of the symptoms of a disease or condition.” Advancements in early diagnosis, surgery, and treatment protocols have relieved many people from cancer symptoms, but not all cancers are curable.
This data changes each year. For updated numbers, see the references below. Always speak to your physician about your concerns. Statistics show general trends only.
Please Note: The articles on Dr. Andy Higgins’ website are obtained from a variety of sources. While they pertain to the treatment of breast cancer, colon cancer, and other maladies, their presence here is not to help diagnose or treat any disease, but to stimulate conversation about health-related issues. All articles are cleared by an editor, but not necessarily by Doctor Higgins himself.