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What is Cancer?

Our body is made up of cells which grow, divide and die as they get old or damaged & then are replaced by new cells. Certain genetic changes occur in the body which interferes with this orderly process of the cells & the cells begin to grow uncontrollably. This is known as Cancer.

Mass of cells formed due to abnormal multplication of cells can either be malignant (cancerous) or benign. Some types of cancer may not form a tumour like leukemias.

The term “cancer” comprises of nearly 100 diseases which affect almost every part of the body & are potentially life-threatening.

What causes Cancer?

Cancer is caused by increased damage to the genes or to exposure to a cancer causing substance. The causes or risk factors of Cancer is divided into following group:

Biological or internal factors includes-

Age: It can be considered a risk factor for cancer because the incidence of most cancers increases with age. Almost 9 in 10 cancer cases are in people aged 50 or over.
Gender: Generally, men are more prone to cancer than women.
Genetic defects: Li-Fraumeni syndrome can lead to bone cancers, breast cancers, soft tissue sarcomas, brain cancers; Down’s syndrome can lead to malignancies such as leukaemia and testicular cancer.

Environmental exposure & exposure to radiation includes-

  • Exposure to UV radiation from the sun may lead to melanoma & other types of skin cancers.
  • Radiation therapy given for the treatment of one type of cancer may lead to another type of cancer like in some cases people who receive chest radiation therapy for lymphomas may later develop breast cancer.

Occupational risk factors include-

  • Several chemicals and environmental toxins are responsible for changes in normal cellular DNA.
  • Exposure to certain chemicals like radium, exposure to asbestos fibres, tar may lead to cancer.

Lifestyle-related factors includes-

  • Tobacco smoking causes cancers of lung, larynx, head, neck, stomach, bladder, kidney, oesophagus and pancreas.
  • Alcohol.
  • Some food-related factors, such barbecuing food contains nitrites and poly aromatic hydrocarbons.

Certain Bacteria and viruses can cause Cancer-

  • Human papilloma virus (HPV) can cause cervical cancer.
  • Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) can cause Burkitt’s lymphoma.
  • H.pylori can cause stomach cancer.
  • Hepatitis viruses can cause liver cancer.

Hormonal changes & immune deficiency can cause Cancer-

  • Changes in levels of the female hormone oestrogen can cause uterine cancer.
  • Impaired immunity including HIV infection can lead to Kaposi’s sarcoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Cancer Treatment

Fortunately, a wide range of options are available for cancer treatment now. However, which treatment you would need would depend on the type of cancer and the stage of the disease (how much advanced it is). Generally speaking, most cases of cancer require treatment with Surgery (specially when the disease is of early stage), Chemotherapy and/or Radiation Therapy. In addition, more and more oncologists are prescribing advanced cancer interventions like Immunotherapy, Targeted Therapy or Hormone Therapy. Bone Marrow Transplant is also being increasingly used to treat wide range of cancers (Read more on: Cancer Treatment

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