The Biology of Cancer

The Biology of Cancer

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The Biology of Cancer

In this report I will discuss the biology of cancer, including the
explanations of what is cancer, what causes it and how it can be
prevented. In addition, I will briefly discuss the different ways it
is treated.

What is cancer?

Cancer develops when cells in a part of the body begin to grow out of
control. Although there are many kinds of cancer, they all start due
to the abnormal cells growing out of control.

Normal body cells grow, divide and die in an orderly fashion. Until a
person is an adult, the cells divide very rapidly, whereas after they
have become an adult, the cells in most parts of the body divide only
to replace worn out or dying cells and to repair injuries.

Cancer cells develop because of damage to DNA. Most of the time when
DNA is damaged, it dies or it is repaired whereas in cancer cells, it
is not repaired. People can inherit this damaged DNA and this accounts
for inherited cancers. Many times though, a person's DNA becomes
damaged because of the exposure to something in the environment, like
smoking. This is not an inherited factor.

Cancer usually forms as a tumour but some cancers like leukaemia
don't. Cancer cells usually travel to other parts of the body where
they begin to grow and replace normal tissue. This process is called
metastasis, and occurs as the cancer cells get into the bloodstream or
lymph vessels of our body. When cells from a cancer like breast cancer
spread to another organ like the liver, it is still called breast
cancer and not liver cancer.

Who gets cancer?

Over one million people get cancer each year. Anyone can get cancer at
any age; however, about 77% of all cancers are diagnosed in people
aged 55 or older. Today, millions of people are living with cancer or
have been cured of the disease. The sooner a cancer is found and the
sooner treatment begins, the better the patient's chances of a cure.

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Therefore early detection of cancer is very important when fighting

What causes cancer?

Some kinds of caner are caused by things that people do. Smoking can
cause cancers of the lungs, mouth, throat, bladder, kidneys and
several other organs as well as heart disease and stroke. While not
everyone who smokes gets cancer, smoking does increase a person's
chance of getting cancer, in addition to drinking alcohol, which
increases cancer of the mouth and throat.

Radiation can cause cancer but the x-rays by the doctor or dentists
are safe. Too much exposure to sunlight without any protection can
cause skin cancer.

Can cancer be prevented?

Smoking and drinking alcohol cause some people to get certain type of
cancer and avoiding tobacco and alcohol can prevent these. The best
idea is never to use tobacco at all. People who already smoke should
try to quit as former smokers have less chance of developing cancer
than those who continue to smoke.

The chances of getting skin cancer can be lowered by staying in the
shade as much as possible, wearing a hat and shirt when in the sun and
using sunscreen.

Our diet, (what we eat) is linked to some type of cancer, although the
exact reasons are not yet clear. It is best to eat a lot of fresh
fruit and vegetable and whole grains like pasta and bread and to cut
down on high fat foods.

There are tests, called screening examinations that adults should have
in order to find cancer early. It cancer is found early it can often
be cured.

How is cancer treated?

The four major types of treatment for cancer are surgery, radiation,
chemotherapy, and biologic therapies.

A person's cancer treatment will be entirely based on their unique
situation. Certain types of cancer respond very differently to
different types of treatment, so determining the type of cancer is a
vital step towards knowing which treatments will be most effective.
The cancer' stage, how widespread it is will also determine the best
course of the treatment since the early stages of cancer respond
differently to therapies of late stages of cancer.


Oliver, Ray Understanding Biology, published 1997

Hamilton, Mary Human Biology, published 1998

New Treatment of Cancer Approved, The Guardian 15th December 1996.
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