Cancer is a scary word. According to the World Health Organization(WHO), it is the leading cause of death worldwide and caused around 9.6 million deaths worldwide in 2018. Statistics say that every 1 in 6 deaths around the world is due to cancer and most of us probably have had someone close to us die from the disease. But have you ever wondered what it really is? How it originates and how it “grows”? Is it true that it can rarely be cured? Well, these are the questions that I will try to answer for you:
Most of you know that a cell is the basic unit of life. The human body, for example, is made up of 30 trillion cells. These cells divide to form new cells - be it to grow, or to replace old and worn off cells. This process is highly regulated by a system of complex checks and mechanisms. One such mechanism is that of contact inhibition by virtue of which normal cells inhibit their growth when they come into contact with other cells
. Cancer cells undergo a breakdown of this mechanism which results in an uncontrolled growth of cells leading to clumps of cell masses called tumours
Tumours are of two kinds -
a) Benign (considerate)
, wherein the tumour remains confined to their location of origin and does not spread to other body parts and,
b) Malignant (a true evil)
, where the tumours spread to other parts of the body by a property called metastasis
. Malignant tumours are a mass of proliferating (rapidly multiplying) cells called neoplastic cells which grow uncontrollably and choke its neighbouring cells of vital nutrients. Some of these cells then get sloughed off by blood and get lodged at some other part of the body where they initiate the formation of a new tumour. This property is called metastasis
and is what makes malignant tumours so deadly and hateful.
Let’s talk about why normal cells might transform into cancerous ones in the first place. There are plenty of contributory factors that can be physical, chemical, or biological in nature. Such contributory agents are called carcinogens
. For example, there are at least 69 known chemical carcinogens in tobacco smoke alone
. Biological agents include viruses like Human Papilloma Virus(HPV) and Hepatitis Virus. One’s vulnerability to cancer or the oncogenic transformation of normal cells also depends on a person’s genes too.
There are a lot of myths about cancer. Most of these stem from the early understanding of cancer back in the ‘80s and the ‘90s where cancer had a remarkably high mortality rate. Recent advancements in the fields of medicine, pharmacy, and biotechnology have equipped us to battle cancer more effectively than ever before. Cancer is generally treated by a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy
. However, it should be kept in mind that there is no cure for cancer. All doctors can really do is treat the disease so that it can go into remission.
But there’s one thing that you can do to try to prevent it, and that is to follow a healthy lifestyle. If you’d like to know more, click here
Credits: Arko De
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Sources - NCERT, WebMD, WHO.