Cancer information

Consider the odds: Every day our bodies produce more than 500 billion new cells. Every once in a while an error occurs, and our bodies form defective cells. This can be the beginning of cancer.

Cancer develops when oncogenes (the genes that control cell growth) are transformed by a carcinogen, or cancer-causing agent. In most cases, the immune system identifies and destroys these aberrant cells before they multiply. But when the system breaks down, these fast-growing cancer cells reproduce, forming a tumor and invading healthy tissue. These tumors zap the body of nutrients and interfere with the tasks performed by the healthy tissue.

Cancer information: While cancer can develop at any age, it tends to affect older people more than younger ones because they have been exposed to more carcinogens over a longer period of time. In many cases, it takes years or decades for cancer-causing agents to do damage; other cancers grow and spread rapidly.

Cancer informationWhile all cancers involve the uncontrolled growth of cells, the word cancer refers to more than 100 different diseases. There are four main categories of cancer: carcinomas of the skin, mucous membranes, glands, and other organs; leukemia of the blood; sarcomas of the muscles, connective tissues, and bones; and lymphomas of the lymphatic system.

Cancer information: Not all tumors are cancerous: Benign (noncancerous) tumors do not spread and infiltrate surrounding tissues; malignant (cancerous) tumors do spread or metastasize through the blood vessels and lymph system to other areas of the body, where new tumors grow. Areas of the body where malignant tumors most commonly develop are the bone marrow, breasts, colon, liver, lungs, lymphatic system, ovaries, pancreas, prostate gland, skin, stomach, and uterus.

Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the United States, after heart disease. Despite its prevalence, the exact cause of cancer remains a mystery, although some experts argue that environmental factors—such as exposure to tobacco smoke, radiation, asbestos fibers, and toxic wastes—cause about 80 percent of all cancers. In addition, some people may inherit a greater sensitivity to carcinogens and a greater propensity to develop cancer.

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