Cancer development begins when a cell starts to multiply outside of the normal time frame for cell division within the body. In order for this to occur, the cell must have undergone some sort of mutation. When this mutated cell begins to produce other mutated cells, a tumor is formed.
The mutated cells that are spawned from the original usually carry the same defect that allows abnormal cell reproduction, speeding the development of cancer. If this is the case, the tumor is said to be malignant, and is referred to as cancer. Cells that have mutated and do not have this capacity for furthering cancer development are said to be benign.
Reasons for Cancer Development
There are many different kinds of cancer, and different factors have been linked to different types of cancer development. A genetic predisposition can make a patient more prone to development of any specific type of cancer that is prevalent in a patient’s family history. Environmental factors and lifestyle choices play a large role in development and spread of cancer.
Factors that may influence cancer development include:
- Not eating enough fruits and vegetables
- Lack of physical activity
- Exposure to radiation
- Exposure to environmental pollution
- Prolonged exposure to sunlight
While these factors have been linked to cancer development, not all patients that are exposed to these factors will develop cancer. Cancer is a highly individualized disease, and scientists and physicians do not know what causes one patient to develop cancer while another patient that seems to have all of the same risk factors does not. Cancer research is widespread, and new findings surface daily.
Detecting Cancer Development Early
Cancer treatment is most effective if it is begun early on. Once cancer has begun to spread and invade new areas of the body, it can be much more difficult to remove surgically and will be more resistant to medications that are taken to stunt further cancer development. For this reason, most doctors perform cancer screenings during regular check-ups. Cancer screenings are tests that are done when patients are healthy with the intention of catching cancer early, before it has begun to spread and reach later stages.
If an abnormality is detected through a cancer screening, diagnostic tests may be done to verify the presence of cancer. Biopsies, blood tests, x-rays, CT scans, and endoscopy are all examples of tests that are used to confirm cancer development. If cancer is verified, further tests may be conducted to find out exactly what type and stage of cancer the patient is suffering from.
Types and Stages of Cancer Development
Type of cancer is determined by which type of cell the cancer originated within. Carcinoma is formed in the epithelial cells, which include the breast, lung, and prostate. Lymphoma and leukemia are formed in the cells that are responsible for forming new blood cells, such as marrow cells. Blastoma cancers form in embryonic cells. Sarcoma cancers stem from connective tissue cells, such as bone, cartilage, and fat. Each of these types of cancer may be further classified by exactly where in the body the original cells came from, such as breast cancer.
There are five stages of cancer that are generally recognized, starting with stage zero. At stage zero, the cancer is only affecting the original cell and those cells in close proximity to it. At stage zero, cancer development is at its earliest stage, and does not pose a threat to body tissues yet. As cancer progresses through stage one through four, it becomes more difficult to treat. The stages may vary slightly in prognosis for different types of cancer.
Slowing or Stopping Cancer Development
Cancer development varies greatly from person to person, but fast treatment is typically the best way to slow or stop the spread of cancer. The best type of cancer treatment is highly debatable, and new types of cancer treatment are evolving daily. Physicians are increasingly recommending lifestyle changes in addition to traditional treatments. Alternative treatments, which once viewed with suspicion, are now being considered by increasing numbers of patients.
Traditional treatment that is prescribed to stop cancer development includes:
- Radiation therapy
- Surgery to remove tumors
- Medications to limit growth of tumors
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