Cancer refers to malignant tumors or cells that exhibit abnormal growth and have the potential to invade or spread to other regions in the body. This is in contrast to benign tumors which may show abnormal growth, but do not spread.
How common is cancer?
Over 30% of women and close to 50% of men will have a cancer diagnosis in their lifetimes. In 2020, close to 1.8 million new cancer cases will be diagnosed in the United States. The most common cancer is breast cancer, affecting nearly 280,000 people with 99% of cases being in women. The next most common cancer is lung cancer, affecting men and women equally, followed by prostate cancer, exclusively in men. Over 600,000 people will die of cancer in 2020, with the leading cause being lung cancer, followed distantly by colorectal cancer and pancreatic cancer.
What affects my risk of getting cancer?
Cancer risk is linked to a variety of causes, including lifestyle factors; exposure to physical or chemical agents; exposure to certain pathogens; radiation exposure; and genetics. Hereditary cancers make up less than 10% of all cancer cases. In fact, over 4 in 10 cancer cases are preventable! Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and limiting environmental exposure to cancer causing agents, like those found in tobacco products, can drastically reduce most people’s risk for developing cancer.
What if I still get cancer?
Getting early and regular screening for cancer can enable early detection of malignancies. The earlier a cancer is detected the more likely it is that it can be treated definitively and grant you more years of disease-free living.
If you have had genetic testing, your doctors may be able to identify personalized treatments for you that will do the best job of removing your cancer. And your 100+ physicians will be with you along the way to make sure you receive the proper treatment and care.
Hallmarks of Cancer
- Self-stimulated growth: Usually cells are “told” to multiply by signals coming from elsewhere in the body. Cancer cells reject this and will continue to undergo cell division without external input.
- Insensitivity to external anti-growth signals: Healthy cells have checks and balances that prevent uncontrolled growth. These processes do not function normally, allowing cancer cells to grow unchecked.
- Evading detection and “programmed cell death”: Normal cells have a mechanism by which they are programmed to self-destruct if they become damaged. This mechanism is characteristically absent in cancer cells.
- Limitless reproduction: Normal cells have a reproductive lifespan, i.e. they can only divide a set number of times before they die. Cancer cells are apparently capable of infinite growth and division.
- “Sustained angiogenesis”: Cancer cells can trigger the body to generate new blood vessels that sustain the cancer with oxygen and nutrients.
- Invasiveness and metastasis: Cancer cells can break away from their site of origin to invade surrounding tissue or to spread to distant parts of the body.
Hanahan, Douglas, and Robert A. Weinberg. “The Hallmarks of Cancer.” Cell, vol. 100, no. 1, Elsevier, 7 Jan. 2000, pp. 57–70, doi:10.1016/S0092-8674(00)81683-9.