Knowing What Cancer is | cannabisMD

What Is Cancer?

Cancer, what is it

Image Credit: Louis Reed on Unsplash

The Seattle Cancer Care Alliance defines cancer as the growth of abnormal cells that goes unchecked. Cells normally as they divide forming new cells, the old cells die. Abnormal cells are formed when the old cells, instead of dying, keep growing. The body control mechanism reacts to old cells by attacking them and automatically killing them, sometimes this mechanism fails to allow the old cells to grow. In most cases, these new and extra abnormal cells might gather together, forming mass tissues called tumors. Tumors are one of the most common characteristics present in cancer, but not all cancers develop them. The whole human body is made of cells; therefore, cancer could be developed in any part of the body. The most common cancer types are Lung cancer and colorectal cancer affecting men and women. In women, Breast cancer is among the most common and in men is prostate cancer. Cancers are categorized according to their characteristics and how they develop on the body.

Categories of cancer

  • Carcinoma: The carcinoma cancers are characterized by starting at the skin or the tissue lining the inner organs and not expanding to other parts of the body. Normally, carcinomas will stay where they started, but they could spread to other parts of the body. Carcinoma is mostly presented in Skin Cancer, Kidney Cancer, Breast Cancer and Lung Cancer.
  • Sarcomas: This category is a rare kind of cancer characterized by a developing different kind of tissue such as in the bone, cartilage, fat, muscle or connective tissue. The City of Hope Organization divides sarcomas into two main types, bone cancer, and soft tissue sarcoma. The most common sarcomas are bone cancer (osteosarcoma) and gastrointestinal cancer.
  • Leukemia: It starts in the blood and bone marrow. It is characterized by the uncontrolled growth of blood cells, normally white blood cells, in the bone marrow. White cells are the primary component of the immune system. In this cancer, the white blood cells grown to replace the red blood cells and the marrow cells. Some of the symptoms of this type of cancer are fever or chills, fatigue or weakness, easy bleeding or bruising, bone pain or tenderness and loss of weight. Some of the causes of leukemia are a combination of genetics and environmental factors. Leukemia cancers are categorized in acute leukemia or chronic leukemia according to on how fast they progress.
  • Lymphomas: These start with the Lymphatic system. There are two types of lymphoms cancer: Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (HL) and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL). The main difference between both types is where cancer starts. Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is a result of an injury to the DNA of a type of white cell known as a lymphocyte, it commonly affects the lymph in the neck or the area between the lungs and behind the breastbone, spreading to the rest of the body. It is one of the most curable types of cancer. Some of HL symptoms are unexplained fever, persistent fatigue, itchy skin and lymph node pain after drinking alcohol. The Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma often starts in the lymph nodes, liver, spleen or bone marrow and spread to metastasize anywhere in the body. NHL most common symptoms are painless swelling of the lymph nodes, loss of appetite, cough or chest pain, and enlarger of the spleen or liver.
  • Central Nervous system: This cancer develops in the brain, the spinal cord or spreads to other parts of the body into them.

Most common cancer types

  • Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer: It is any type of skin cancer that is not a melanoma. Non-melanoma skin cancer is the most common cancer type, affecting more than a million people a year. Skin cancer normally is caused by long time exposed to the sun. Also, the use of tanning and sun lamps could also cause it. According to the Mayo Clinic Organization, there are several types of skin cancer that fall under the non-melanoma skin cancer, such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. This type of cancer mostly affects elderly people or people with the compromised immune system.
  • Breast Cancer: Is the second most common cancer type, and the most common among women. Approximately 1 in 10 women worldwide will suffer from this cancer at some point in their life. The breast is made of two parts, lobules, and ducts. The lobules are glands that can produce milk and the ducts are tiny tubes that carry the milk from the lobules to the nipple. The breast tissue contains fat, lymph nodes, and blood vessels. Breast cancer normally starts in the cells of the ducts or in the cells of the lobules, but it also could start in other tissue in the breast. If detected in the earlier stages, there are highly successful treatments due to modern medicine and studies. A study from the California Pacific Medical Center states that breast cancer is most often incurable once clinically metastases develop. Metastases are the last and final stage cancer. There are different categories of breast cancer, normally categorized by if the cancer spreads or not, by the location and areas affected, or by the stage of cancer progression and molecular configuration.
  • Lung Cancer: It starts in the lungs and spread to other parts of the body. Lung cancer presents in the cells inside the lining of the lungs, there are two types: small cell and non-small cell cancer. Non-small cell cancer is approximately 85% of lung cancer cases, with chemotherapy being the most effective treatment for it. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in men and women in the United States, with 80% of lung cancer deaths due to smoking.
  • Prostate Cancer: The prostate gland is part of men’s reproductive systems and is found at the base of the bladder. Cancer develops in the tissue inside the prostate gland. This type of cancer is difficult to diagnose due to its lack of symptoms in the early stages. It grows slowly and might manifest no symptoms for years. Some of the symptoms once there is a swollen prostate gland or advanced spreading outside the prostate, according to the Mayo Clinic Organization, are trouble urinating, blood in semen, bone pain, erectile dysfunction and a decrease in the urine steam force. Men suffering from this cancer with proper treatment can live with good health and quality of life for many years. Studies haven’t determined a cause of prostate cancer, but have determined that prostate cancer is more common in countries where meat and dairy products are part of the daily diet.
  • Colorectal cancer: The colon, located at the end of the large intestine, is the third most common cancer among both men and women. Colorectal cancer, as with lung and prostate cancer, is hard to detect in its early stages. Cancer starts with small, noncancerous groups of cells, that with time could grow to become colon cancer cells. Some of the symptoms are rectal bleeding or blood in the stool, weakness or fatigue, unexplained weight loss, persistent abdominal discomfort (gas or pain), and change in the bowel habits. If cancer hasn’t spread to other parts of the body, it has a 90% survival rate. Colorectal cancer detected in the early stages can be treated, even if it has spread to other organs in the body as the liver or the lungs. In the cases where it has spread to other organs, surgery could complement the treatment by removing the tumors.

Cancer Treatment

As there are different types and categories of cancer, also there are different types of treatment. The treatment varies based on the type and stage of cancer. The three most common treatments for cancer are:

  • Surgery: It is an operation to remove the tumor and some of the surrounding tissue. Surgery is the base of cancer treatment. It is used with different purposes during the treatment. A surgery can be prevention, to remove any organs or tissues with a high risk of developing cancer before it happens. Also, surgery can be used to diagnose whether the tumor (cancer tumor) is malignant or benign (non-cancerous) or to define the size of it. Normally, removing the tumor and affected area will cure the cancer, except when it has spread to other parts of the body. Most types of cancer might be treated with surgery, except for Leukemia and some Lymphomas.
  • Chemotherapy: This treatment uses chemicals or anti-cancer drugs to kill or destroy cancer cells. This treatment targets cells that grow quickly. The drugs in chemotherapy vary on the type and stage of cancer. The chemicals needed to treat breast cancer differs to the ones to treat lung cancer. A difference with other treatments, chemotherapy doesn’t treat specific area which means the drugs could also attack healthy cells in other parts of the body. Chemotherapy could be used alone but it is normally used in combination with radiotherapy or hormone therapy to reduce the size of the tumor, so then the doctor is able to perform a surgery.
  • Radiotherapy: This treatment uses x-rays or radiation to kill cancer cells. Radiotherapy destroys the cancer cells by damaging their DNA. The treatment consists of aiming high radiation dose on cancer cells and low dose on healthy surrounding cells, giving the opportunity of the second one to recover. This aims to increase the possibility of curing or shirking cancer and reducing the risk of side effects. Radiotherapy could be used as a curative treatment along with surgery and chemotherapy or as a palliative treatment to relieve the symptoms. When a treatment combines radiotherapy and chemotherapy it is called chemoradiation.

Cancer Statistics

A study published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians with the cancer statistics, concluded that cancer death rates have dropped 23% over the past twenty years. The study highlights that cancer is the leading cause of death among US population, with liver and uterine corpus cancer increasing their incidence and mortality rate. Studies have related this two cancer types with obesity. Cancer does not discriminate by race, age or sex, as statistics show that racial disparities in cancer death rates have declined in the last years due to an increase in health coverage among minorities.

Some of the statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Cancer Research Fund International are:

  • The United States has the 6th highest country cancer incidence rate among men and women combined, second highest among women.
  • Lung, prostate and colorectal cancers are the three most common cancers, excluding non-melanoma skin cancer, among men.
  • In women, the three most common cancers are breast, colorectal and lung cancer, excluding non-melanoma skin cancer.
  • 1 in 8 women develop invasive breast cancer during her lifetime
  • In men, cancer incidence rates are higher among black men and white men. Asian/Pacific Islander men have the lowest incidence rate.
  • In women, cancer incidence rates are higher among white women and black women. American Indian/Alaska native women have the lowest incidence rate.
  • Death rates are higher among black men and women and lower among Asian/Pacific Islander men and women.

Cancer research and technological advances have helped to detect cancer in earlier stages, increasing cancer survival rates. Science hasn’t determined an exact cause for cancer, but some of the risk factors include genetics, diet, and behavior such as smoking or lack of exercise. It is important to eat a well-balanced diet and have an active life. Additionally, it is important to visit the doctor frequently and have regular check ups to be able to detect any possibility of cancer, especially if there is a history of cancer in the family.

If you enjoyed this article, you’ll enjoy further reading in Your One-Stop Guide: What We Know About Using Cannabis for Cancer.

Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff
At cannabisMD we aim to provide you with all the information and knowledge you need to take the next step in your personal cannabis journey! Read about our team

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *