The origin of the word Cancer is credited to the Greek physician Hippocrates (460-370 BC), who is considered the “Father of Medicine”. Hippocrates used the term carcinomas and carcinoma to describe non-ulcer forming and ulcer-forming tumours. The world’s oldest documented case of cancer hails from ancient Egypt in 1500 BC. This suggests that cancer has been around at least since the Triassic Period, some 250 million years ago. The findings were recently published in JAMA Oncology. The researchers used paleopathology, the study of ancient disease, to study cancer across the phylogenetic tree.

Sir Rudolf Virchow, a German biologist and politician, studied microscopic pathology and linked his observations to illness. He is described as “the founder of cellular pathology”. In 1845, Virchow and John Hughes Bennett independently observed abnormal increase in white blood cells inpatient. But we know that cancer is mainly a disease of the elderly three-quarters of cases diagnosed in people aged 60 and over, and more than a third (36%) of cases in people aged 75 and over. So it’s not surprising that cancer was a rare event in populations where people were unlikely to make it past 40.

The main reason cancer risk overall is rising is because of our increasing lifespan. And the researchers behind these new statistics reckon that about two-thirds of the increase is due to longevity. The rest, they think, is caused by changes in cancer rates across different age groups. Some of the earliest evidence of cancer is found among fossilized bone tumours, human mummies in ancient Egypt, and ancient manuscripts. Growths suggestive of the bone cancer called osteosarcoma have been seen in mummies. Bony skull destruction as seen in cancer of the head and neck has been found, too.

Cancer is a genetic disease that is, it is caused by changes to genes that control the way our cells function, especially how they grow and divide. Moreover, cancer is an uncontrolled division of white blood cells. Genetic changes that cause cancer can be inherited from our parents. In general, cancer cells have more genetic changes, such as mutations in DNA, than normal cells. Cancer is unchecked cell growth. Mutations in genes can cause cancer by accelerating cell division rates or inhibiting normal controls on the system, such as cell cycle arrest or programmed cell death. As a mass of cancerous cells grows, it can develop into a tumour.

Cancer is caused by accumulated damage to genes. Such changes may be due to chance or to exposure to a cancer-causing substance. The substances that cause cancer are called carcinogens. A carcinogen may be a chemical substance, such as certain molecules in tobacco smoke. The cause of cancer may be environmental agents, viral or genetic factors. We should bear in mind, though, that in the majority of cancer cases we cannot attribute the disease to a single cause. We can roughly divide cancer risk factors into the following groups:

  • Biological or internal factors, such as age, gender, inherited genetic defects and skin type
  • Environmental exposure, for instance to radon and UV radiation, and fine particulate matter
  • Occupational risk factors, including carcinogens such as many chemicals, radioactive materials and asbestos
  • Lifestyle-related factors

Lifestyle-related factors that cause cancer include tobacco, alcohol, UV radiation in sunlight, some food-related factors, such as nitrites and polyaromatic hydrocarbons generated by barbecuing food. Some metal compounds and some plastic chemicals (e.g. Vinyl chloride) can also cause cancer.

Bacteria and viruses such as, Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori, which causes gastritis), HBV, HCV (hepatitis viruses that cause hepatitis), HPV (human papillomavirus, which causes changes e.g. Cervical cells), EBV (Epstein-Barr virus, the herpes virus that causes inflammation of the throat lymphoid) can also cause cancer.
Radiation such as, ionizing (e.g. X-ray radiations, soil radon), non-ionized radiation (the sun’s ultraviolet radiation) are also the threatening cause of cancer.

Some drugs may increase the risk of cancer: including certain antineoplastic agents, certain hormones, medicines that cause immune deficiency. In 5-10% of breast cancer, genetic predisposition plays an important role in the emergence of the disease. Cancer refers to any one of a large number of diseases characterized by the development of abnormal cells that divide uncontrollably and have the ability to infiltrate and destroy normal body tissue. Cancer often has the ability to spread throughout your body. Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the world. But survival rates are improving for many types of cancer, thanks to improvements in cancer screening and cancer treatment.

Signs and symptoms caused by cancer will vary depending on what part of the body is affected. Some general signs and symptoms associated with, but not specific to, cancer, include: fatigue, lump or area of thickening that can be felt under the skin, weight changes including unintended loss or gain, skin changes, such as yellowing, darkening or redness of the skin, sores that won’t heal, or changes to existing moles, change in bowel or bladder habits, persistent cough or trouble breathing, difficulty swallowing, hoarseness, persistent indigestion or discomfort after eating, persistent, unexplained fevers or joint pain, night sweats, unexplained bleeding or bruising. Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any persistent signs or symptoms.

Gene mutations can occur for several reasons, for instance: you may be born with a genetic mutation that you inherited from your parents. This type of mutation accounts for a small percentage of cancers. Most gene mutations occur after you’re born aren’t inherited. A number of forces can cause gene mutations, such as smoking, radiation, viruses, cancer-causing chemicals (carcinogens), obesity, hormones, chronic inflammation and a lack of exercise. Gene mutations occur frequently during normal cell growth. However, cells contain a mechanism that recognizes when a mistake occurs and repairs the mistakes. Occasionally, a mistake is missed. This could cause a cell to become cancerous.

There is no certain way to prevent cancer. But doctors have identified several ways of reducing your cancer risk, such as: stop smoking, avoid excessive sun exposure, eat a healthy diet, exercise most days of the week, maintain a healthy weight, drink alcohol in moderation, if you choose to drink, schedule cancer screening exams, ask your doctor about immunization.

There are many types of cancer treatment. The types of treatment that you receive will depend on the type of cancer you have and how advanced it is. Some people with cancer will have only one treatment. But most people have a combination of treatments such as surgery with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.

Surgery; when used to treat cancer, surgery is a procedure in which a surgeon removes cancer from your body. Learn the different ways that surgery is used against cancer and what you can expect before, during and after surgery. Radiation therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumours. Chemotherapy is another type of cancer treatment that uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Immunotherapy is also a type of cancer treatment that helps your immune system fight cancer.

Targeted therapy is a treatment that slows or stops the growth of breast and prostate cancers that use hormones to grow. Stem cell transplants are procedures that restore blood-forming stem cells in cancer patients who have had theirs destroyed by very high doses of chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Precision medicine helps doctors select treatments that are most likely to help patients based on a genetic understanding of their disease. The possible treatments of cancer are mentioned above, moreover, I can say, “prevention is better than cure.”

Submitted by “Samia Samman Mehmood Khan”