What is Cancer? - Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

As a word meaning, cancer is the malignant tumors that appear when the cells in an organ or tissue divide and multiply irregularly.


What is Cancer? - Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

As a word meaning, cancer is the malignant tumors that appear when the cells in an organ or tissue divide and multiply irregularly. In general terms, cancer is a group of more than 100 diseases caused by the uncontrolled proliferation of cells in various parts of our body. Although there are many different types of cancer, they all start with the out-of-control proliferation of abnormal cells. If left untreated, it can cause severe illness or even death.

The term cancer was coined by the Greek physicist Hippocrates (460-370 BC), known as the father of medicine. Hippocrates used the terms carcinos and carcinoma to refer to both ulcer-forming and non-ulcer-forming tumors.

How Does a Normal Cell Turn into Cancer?

All cancer types develop from our cells, which are the body's basic living unit. To understand cancer, it would be helpful to know how normal cells turn into cancer.

Healthy cells in our body have the ability to divide. However, this feature is not found in muscle and nerve cells. They use their abilities to regenerate dead cells and repair injured tissues. While cells divide faster in the first years of life, this rate slows down in adulthood. However, these abilities of cells are limited; they cannot divide indefinitely. Throughout its life, every cell has a certain number of divisibility. A healthy person knows how much to divide and knows how to die when necessary. This is called apoptosis, or programmed death of the cell. Usually, cells need to grow, divide and produce more cells for the body to function correctly and healthily. Sometimes, however, the process goes astray, and cells continue to divide without the need for new cells. Unconscious cancer cells begin to divide uncontrollably and multiply. Masses of excess cells form size or tumor.

In the center of the cells, there are microscopic strands called DNA, which can also be viewed with an electron microscope, in which the genetic information of the cell and the organism is stored. DNA is necessary for the cell to function normally. Cancerous cells are formed due to damage to this DNA strand. Even if there is DNA damage in the regular life cycle of the cell, the cell either repairs it or dies. In cancer cells, damaged DNA cannot be repaired, and uncontrolled proliferation begins. DNA can be damaged by environmental factors (chemicals, viruses, tobacco products, excessive sunlight, etc.).

Cancer cells accumulate to form tumors. Tumors can be benign or malignant. Benign tumors are not cancer. These are taken frequently and often do not recur. Cells in benign tumors do not spread to other parts of the body.

Most importantly, benign tumors are rarely life-threatening. Malignant tumors are cancer. Cells in malignant tumors are abnormal and divide uncontrollably and irregularly. These tumors can compress, infiltrate, or destroy normal tissues. If cancer cells leave the tumor where they formed, they can travel to other parts of the body via the blood or lymph circulation. They form tumor colonies where they go and continue to grow. The spread of cancer to other parts of the body in this way is called metastasis.

Causes of Cancer & Common Types

The exact cause of cancer is unknown. There are two groups of risk factors for cancer. These are genetic factors and environmental factors. The genetic factors are age, gender, and family history. Environmental factors are:

  • Smoking and alcohol use,
  • Radiation exposure,
  • Some viruses,
  • Bad eating habits,
  • Additives in food,
  • Prolonged exposure to sunlight
  • Overdose of X-ray exposure,
  • Some chemicals (tar, gasoline, dyestuffs, asbestos, etc.),
  • Air pollution,

Exposure to one or more of these risk factors does not necessarily indicate that a person will develop cancer but increases the likelihood of developing cancer. Although some people have many risk factors, they never get cancer in their lifetime, while some patients diagnosed with cancer may not have any risk factors.

Common Cancer Types

  • Skin cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Gastric cancer
  • Large intestine (colon) cancer
  • Cervical (cervix) cancer
  • Lymph node tumors

In terms of the incidence of cancer types, men and women differ. The frequency of cancer varies according to geographical regions and race. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in both men and women. In Turkey, lung, prostate, large intestine, rectum, stomach, and pancreas in men; breast, lung, large intestine, rectum, cervix, ovarian, stomach, and pancreatic cancers follow in women.

In the last twenty to thirty years, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of cancer diseases due to the increase in the number of elderly people in the population with the prolongation of the average lifespan, and the increase in the number of smokers at the same time. In parallel with the prevalence of smoking in women, the incidence of lung cancer is approaching that of breast cancer.

What Are the Symptoms of Cancer

Knowing the cancer symptoms is vital for early detection of the disease, but having one or more of these symptoms does not mean that a person has cancer.

  • Unexplained weight loss: Many cancers, especially stomach, pancreatic, esophageal (oesophageal) cancer, and lung cancer; The first symptom is unexplained weight loss.
  • Biological Risk Factors: Biological Risk Factors; physical characteristics such as age, gender, and race. Whether physical and biological characteristics are risk factors for cancer depends on the type of cancer. Biological and physical characteristics that may pose a risk for certain types of cancer may include:
  • Gender: Some types of cancer are related to gender. For example, because the prostate gland is only in men, prostate cancer occurs in men. Breast cancer can occur in men and women, but women have a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Age: Many types of cancer occur in the elderly. People over the age of 50 have a higher risk of developing cancer.
  • Race: Certain types of cancer are common in some races. For example, prostate cancer is more common in black Americans.
  • Skin: Skin cancer is more common in blondes.
  • Environmental Risk Factors: The environmental conditions in which you live or work may be a risk factor for cancer development. Some substances found in the home or workplace increase the risk of cancer. Exposure to asbestos, radon, air pollution, UV radiation, and cigarettes are environmental risk factors. Again, while some foods are taken in the diet increase the risk of cancer development, some may be protective.
  • Genetic Risk Factors: Genetic Risk Factors are associated with genes that are inherited from families. The risk of developing cancer is high in individuals who are diagnosed with cancer at a young age in one of their family members, who have the same type of cancer in three or more generations, who have more than three cancer cases from their mother or father, and who have two or more different types of cancer in one of their family members. Even if more than one family member has the same kind of cancer, it may not be hereditary. If it is suspected that the cancer is hereditary, genetic screening tests should be performed.
  • Fever: It is frequently seen in cancer, but it is usually associated with advanced cancers. It may occur as an initial symptom in blood cancer and lymph node tumors.
  • Fatigue: It can occur early in cancers such as cancer of the blood or cancer of the stomach or large intestine, which can cause anemia. Fatigue is an important finding in predicting the course of cancer.
  • Pain: It may be the first sign in bone or testicular tumors, but it is usually advanced cancer.
  • Masses felt in the breast or body: Breast, testis, lymph node, or soft tissue tumors may be felt with a lump or swelling under the skin.
  • Skin changes: Apart from skin tumors, it can also be seen in internal organ tumors. Some cancers may cause jaundice, darkening of the skin, or redness of the skin.
  • Bleeding: Unusual bleeding can occur early or late in many cancers. Blood in sputum may be a sign of lung cancer, blood in the stool may be a sign of large intestine, blood in urine may be a sign of bladder (bladder), and untimely vaginal bleeding may be a sign of cancer of the uterus or cervix.
  • Change in defecation or urination habits: Prolonged constipation, diarrhea, or a change in stool size may be the first sign of colon cancer. Pain when urinating, blood in the urine, or a change in the frequency of urination may be the first signs of prostate or bladder (bladder) cancer.
  • Cough and snoring: Persistent and persistent cough may be the first signs of lung cancer, and snoring may be the first symptoms of laryngeal cancer.
  • Changes in moles and warts: In case of a new change in shape, size, or color of a mole or wart that has been present in our body for years, a doctor should be consulted immediately because skin tumors called melanoma to increase the chance of treatment with early diagnosis.

What is Cancer Treatment

Commonly used treatment modalities in cancer are surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy. Less frequently, hormone therapies, biological therapies, and targeted therapies are used. These treatment methods are applied alone or together. Initial treatment is generally known as first-line treatment. Treatment given after first-line treatment is called adjuvant therapy. Chemotherapy is administered after surgical treatment as adjuvant therapy. The first-line therapy is neoadjuvant therapy.

E.g., Hormonotherapy applied before surgical treatment is neoadjuvant treatment. Many experimental treatment methods are tested in clinical studies. Cancer treatment is becoming more and more specialized, and treatment is usually carried out by a team led by a medical oncologist. Before you start treatment, you will want to know the goals of the treatment, how long it will last, and potential side effects. An essential point in cancer treatment is that patients and their relatives feel comfortable with their doctors and their recommended treatment. Sometimes you may want to get a second opinion on your treatment.

You can read more about cancer in the articles below:

Blood Cancer (Leukemia) - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

Breast Cancer - Types, Symptoms, Risk Factors & Treatment

Stomach Cancer - Types, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

Colon (Intestinal) Cancer - Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

Brain Cancer - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

Lung Cancer - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment

Skin Cancer - Causes, Types, Symptoms & Treatment

Ovarian Cancer - Symptoms, Diagnosis, Stages & Treatment

Prostate Cancer - Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

Liver Cancer - Risk Factors, Symptoms, Stages & Treatment

Kidney Cancer - Causes, Symptoms, Stages & Treatment

Pancreatic Cancer - Symptoms, Diagnoses, Stages & Treatment

Lip Cancer - Causes, Diagnosis, Risk Factors & Treatment

Salivary Gland Cancer - Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Biliary Tract Cancer - Causes, Risk Factors, Symptoms & Treatment

Gallbladder Cancer - Causes, Risk Factors, Symptoms & Treatment

Uterine (Endometrial) Cancer - Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

Laryngeal & Hypopharyngeal Cancers - Symptoms, Causes & Treatment