Wellness

WHAT IS CANCER? BETTER UNDERSTANDING TO BETTER PREVENT AND RESPOND

Cancer is often perceived as an incurable, hopeless disease, whereas today, thanks to early detection, treatments and complementary approaches that help in the fight, many patients recover from it.
Tissues and organs are made up of millions of cells. In people with cancer, the body is attacked by cells that multiply in an exaggerated way and invade surrounding tissues. Sometimes some of them can break off and migrate to other areas of the body.
Various factors, for example irradiation, carcinogenic substances present in food, air and cigarette smoke, or a genetic predisposition can alter the normal “mechanics” of these cells and prevent them from functioning harmoniously. Sick, they will begin to proliferate uncontrollably. Normally, the immune system eliminates them or prevents them from becoming real tumours, but sometimes these diseased cells thwart our defense mechanisms.
Note that the terms malignant tumor and cancerous tumor are also used to designate cancer. The benign tumor is not cancerous. It can put pressure on an organ or a tissue, but occupies a limited space and does not spread throughout the body.

Prevalence of cancer: one in three people affected before the age of 75

According to forecasts made in 2005 by the WHO, one in three people will be diagnosed with cancer before the age of 75. In several Western countries, in Canada and France in particular, cancer is the leading cause of premature death, that is to say before the age of 65.
The increase in the prevalence of cancer is partly explained by the fact that longevity is increasing and that more cancers are detected than before, thanks to screening tools. These factors would explain about a third of this increase. In addition to the factors already mentioned, environmental, dietary and behavioral factors are increasingly highlighted despite the hesitations of part of the scientific community.
More and more children and adolescents are affected by cancer: a large study carried out in Europe reveals that over the past 30 years, the incidence of cancer has increased by 1% every year in children, and 1.5% in adolescents.

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Prognosis in case of cancer always difficult

No doctor can predict, with certainty, the evolution of cancer or the chances of survival for a particular person. The statistics available give an idea of ​​the prognosis for a large group of people, but these figures cannot be transposed exactly to an individual. Moreover, these figures are drawn from past studies and have difficulty anticipating the future.

That said, a significant proportion of patients recover definitively from cancer. The healing rate depends on a multitude of factors: the type of cancer (where the tumor started), the extent of the cancer at the time of diagnosis, the malignancy of the cells, the presence or absence of metastases, the availability of an effective treatment, the individual behaviors implemented by the patient such as diet, physical activity and stress management.

The most widely used method to determine the severity of a cancer is the TNM classification (Tumor, Node, Metastasis), for “tumor”, “node” and “metastasis”.

The T-stage (from 1 to 4) describes the size of the tumor
The N stage (from 0 to 3) describes the presence or absence of metastases in neighboring lymph nodes.
The M-stage (0 or 1) describes the absence or presence of metastases distant from the tumor.

According to the WHO, two thirds of cancer cases are caused by lifestyle, mainly by smoking, poor diet and lifestyle. Hereditary factors are responsible for only 5% to 15% of cancers. In developing countries, the incidence of cancer is increasing rapidly, following industrialization and the adoption of a Western lifestyle. Note that some experts have a different view and consider chemical pollution as one of the main causes of cancer.

Lifestyle habits: a global view of cancer

Lifestyle habits play a predominant role in the onset of cancer. This is well highlighted by the phenomenon of immigration. The emigrants generally end up having the same diseases as the population of their host country.
Moreover, the most common types of cancer vary from one region to another of the globe. In Asia, cancers of the stomach, esophagus and liver are much more frequent, in particular because the diet of the inhabitants includes a large proportion of very salty, smoked, pickled or raw foods. In North America as well as in Europe, cancers of the lung, colon, breast and prostate are the most frequent, among other things due to smoking, poor eating habits and obesity. In Japan, the consumption of red meat, which has steadily increased over the past 50 years, has increased the incidence of colon cancer sevenfold.

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Cancer can form in any of the tissues. In adults, it usually develops over several years or even decades. The formation of a malignant tumor can be divided into three stages, each of which is essential for the appearance of cancer:

First phase: initiation

The genetic material of a cell is damaged; this is a frequent occurrence. Cigarette smoke, asbestos, carcinogens in food, or excess free radicals can cause such damage. Most of the time, the organism repairs the error thanks to its natural mechanisms. If the error is irreparable, the cell dies. This is called apoptosis or cellular “suicide”. When these mechanisms do not work, the damaged cell enters the “promotion” phase.

Second phase: Promotion

External factors will stimulate or not the formation of a cancerous cell. These may be lifestyle habits, such as smoking, physical activity, diet or factors related to pollution and the quality of the environment.

Third phase: progression

The cells proliferate and the tumor forms. In some cases, they can invade other parts of the body (we then speak of metastases). In its growth phase, the tumor begins to cause symptoms: bleeding, fatigue, etc.

The properties of cancer cells and tumor

There are certain characteristics of cancer cells that are found regardless of the cancer. Here are the most documented:
A deranged multiplication: Cells reproduce constantly and are insensitive to signals to stop growth from neighboring cells.
A loss of the original functions: The cells no longer have any use for the organism.
Immortality: The process of cell apoptosis or “suicide”, which normally starts when a cell is out of order, no longer works.
Resistance to attacks by the immune system: Cancer cells thwart their “killers”, NK cells, as well as other cells that are supposed to limit their progression.
The formation of new blood vessels, called tumor angiogenesis: These vessels are essential for the growth of tumors because they bring them nutrients and oxygen (otherwise the tumors cannot grow beyond 1 mm).
Invasion of neighboring tissues and other parts of the body: New foci of cancer are called metastases.
Transmission of the disturbance: The genetic transformations that occur in the cell, when it becomes cancerous, are transmitted to its descendant cells.

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Warning signs: maybe cancer?

Cancer manifests itself in very different ways. It usually evolves over many years before symptoms appear. The following symptoms may be signs of cancer. In their presence, it is best to consult a doctor, even if it worries you.

1) A palpable mass, especially if it increases in size: a nodule in a breast, under the skin, in a lymph node, etc.
2) A mole or patch of skin that changes appearance, color or size, or bleeds.
3) Persistent bleeding: blood in sputum, urine or stool. For women, vaginal blood loss during the cycle or after menopause.
4) Persistent symptoms: unexplained cough and hoarseness for more than four weeks, difficulty swallowing, nausea and vomiting, a sore that does not heal in three weeks, diarrhea or constipation for six weeks or more .
5) A retraction or discharge from the nipple.
6) Recurrent and violent headaches.
7) Extreme fatigue.
8) Rapid, unexplained weight loss.

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