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What Is Cancer?

Cancer is the second cause of death in the United States, only surpassed by heart disease. Each year more than a million Americans get medical care for cancer and over 330,000 die from the disease. More than 200 kinds of cancer affect human beings.

In 1900, cancer was almost always fatal. In the 1930’s fewer than one of every five patients were saved. Today, doctors successfully treat one of every three people who get cancer. Some experts believe that at least half of all cancer patients could be saved if all present knowledge were used promptly in every case.

Cancer is a general term for more than 250 diseases that are characterized by uncontrolled, abnormal growth of cells. Cancer cells can spread through the blood and the clear fluid that bathes body cells called lymph to start new cancers in other parts of the body. Normal cells can convert to abnormal cancer cells. Cancer cells reproduce more rapidly than normal cells and ignore normal regulations of when, how, and where to grow.

Normal cells are more concerned with function than growth. Cancer cells are more concerned with growth than function. Cancer cells seem to be able to grow anywhere in the body. Different kinds of cancer grow at different rates and respond to different kinds of treatments. But all produce useless tissue and keep normal cells from getting nourishment. Cancer cells that are not treated displace normal cells and eventually destroy them.


Cancers are classified into two ways, one is the part of the body where the cancer cells first develop and the second the type of body tissue where the cancer begins. Cancer that starts in the tissue that forms the skin and linings of the body organs is called carcinoma. Cancers of the skin, breast, and body systems are carcinomas and are the most common cancer that begins in the tissue that forms the body’s supporting structures is sarcoma. Some examples are bones, muscles and cartilage.

Other types of cancer are skin, lung, colo-retal, breast, uterine-Cervix, ovary, vaginal, testicular, mouth and throat, larynx, esophageal, stomach, pancreas, liver and bone. There are many more.

How Cancer Is Diagnosed Cancer has often been called the silent killer. It gives no warning of it’s presence in the early stages. Cancer can be diagnosed during a physical examination. In woman a doctor can check for cancer of the cervix and the uterine by a pap smear test. The doctor can also use X-ray technology to detect cancer. A biopsy is another method of accurately diagnosing cancer. Doctors urge that every person have at least one complete physical each year.

Seven Warning Signs

There are seven warning signs that a person should be aware of. Any of these symptoms one should consult a doctor promptly:
  • Unusual bleeding or discharge.
  • A lump or thickening in the breast or elsewhere.
  • A sore that does not heal.
  • Change in bowel or bladder habits.
  • Hoarseness or a continuing cough.
  • Indigestion or difficulty in swallowing.
  • Change in a wart or mole.


No one knows exactly what causes cancer. Most scientists believe that there is no single cause and that many factors maybe involved:
    Viruses may cause cancer-producing changes in DNA.
  • Contact with certain kinds of chemicals may cause cancer.
  • A tendency to develop certain types. of cancer may be inherited.
  • Ultraviolet radiation from the sun harms the skin because of the direct exposure to sunlight.
  • Cigarette smoking and air pollution are two main factors that are increasing lung cancer.


Cancer treatment has improved tremendously in the past 50 years. In the 1930 s the disease was stopped in only about 20% of cancer patients. Now that percentage is about 41%. Surgery has been used to treat breast and intestinal cancer. This method has been successful. Surgery has cured more cancers than radiation and chemotherapy. Radiation is successful in stopping some forms of cancer such as cervical cancer. Cobalt units are used in the treatment of radiation. It penetrates a tumor without damaging the skin. These two methods, radiation and surgery are used when the cancer is located in a local spot that has not spread through the body. Chemotherapy is used to destroy malignant cells without excessive destruction of the normal cells. Some risks of chemotherapy are severe nausea, vomiting, and the loss of hair on head.


Primary prevention refers to steps taken to prevent a disease from ever developing. Prevention begins with the individual and includes healthy eating habits, moderate alcohol consumption regular physical activity, avoidance of cigarette smoking, regular medical checkups and minimizing exposure to pollutants in the air, water, and food.

Secondary prevention is early detection or screening (e.g., getting a pap smear test for detection of early cervical cancer).

  • Understanding Cancer, Mark Renneker M.D., 1988
  • Bull Publishing Company
  • Cancer and Nutrition, Elizabeth Somer, MA, RD, 1990
  • Health Media of America, Inc.
  • Glencoe Health, Mary Bronson Merki, Ph.D., Don Merki, Ph.D. Glencoe Publishing Company
  • The World Book Encyclopedia, Vol 3, Enterprises Education Corporation, 1986
  • MonsterPapers, 2003

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The information presented here is not meant to be medical advice nor to act as a substitute for medical advice. Serious side-effects, including death, could result if one were to take any prescription medicine without the supervision of a physician.

Copyright 2003, Thomas Manaugh, PhD