We have all heard the name. Many of us have had people close to us who have suffered from it. Perhaps you have had it yourself. But what, exactly, is cancer.
Cancer occurs when cells in the body turn abnormal and begin to divide in an uncontrolled way. Sometimes the cancer remains at its point of origin while other times it spreads to other tissues in the body. The number of cancers currently exceeds two hundred and it is estimated that one in every two people in the UK will develop cancer at some point in their lives. Once the cancer has started, it grows when the affected cells begin to multiply numerous times. This results in a growth known as a tumour. The most common cause of cancer is when genes in the body change. Occasionally cancers start as a result of faulty genes which have been inherited from previous generations, although this is rare.
The primary tumour is located where the cancer starts. When it begins to spread to other parts of the body, this is what is known as a secondary tumour or a metastasis. Cancer can negatively affect the blood circulation, the immune system and the hormone system.
The staging and grading of cancers will provide an indication of how quickly a cancer is expected to grow and what treatments will be most appropriate. The stage of a cancer indicates how large it is and whether it has begun to spread. Stage 1 is where a cancer is small and contained in the area where it first developed. Stage 2 means the cancer is larger but hasn’t yet begun to spread. Stage 3 indicates the cancer may have started to spread and cells may have developed in the lymph nodes. Stage 4 means the cancer has spread from its point of origin to another organ in the body such as the liver or a lung.
Treatment depends on how large the cancer is and how much it has spread, if indeed it has, and also your general health. In many cases, surgery is a viable option to remove the cancer cells. In others, chemotherapy, which is a drug that treats cancer, will be appropriate. Various forms of radiotherapy may also be offered. There are also a range of medications that may be prescribed. These are just a few of the viable treatments you may be offered if you have cancer.
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