Biology for Kids
What is cancer?
Cancer is any disease caused by uncontrolled cell growth. Abnormal cells begin to divide and make tumors. They can spread throughout the body and slowly destroy good cells and tissues making the person sick.
There are many different diseases that are called cancers. Some of these diseases are very treatable while others are more dangerous and can be fatal. Around 40% of all people will be diagnosed with cancer some time during their lives.
Cancer Starts in the Cell
Cancer starts when the genes in a cell that regulate cell growth are somehow altered or mutated. It actually takes a number of mutations before a cell becomes cancerous. Typically, the cells are smart enough to get rid of mutations. They have complex ways of safeguarding against mutations and will kill off bad cells. However, if the right series of mutations occur, the cells will begin to grow uncontrollably.
Types of Cancer
Cancer is really a term used to describe a number of different diseases. There are more than 200 different types of cancer. Typically, cancers are named after the place in the body where the cancer first began. For example, lung cancer is cancer that started in the lungs. There are then different types of lung cancers with long scientific names such as "well differentiated squamous cell carcinoma of the lung" and "small cell carcinoma of the lung."
Common Forms of Cancer
- Breast cancer - Cancer of the breast that usually forms in the tubes and glands that carry and make milk. It is much more common in women than in men.
- Colon cancer - Cancer of the colon, which is part of the large intestine.
- Leukemia - Cancer of the blood that often starts in the bone marrow.
- Lymphoma - Cancer of the white blood cells that help to form the immune system. It is often found in the lymph nodes, the spleen, or the blood marrow.
- Lung cancer - Cancer of the lungs. It is most commonly, but not always, caused by smoking.
- Melanoma - Cancer of the skin or other pigmented areas (like the eye). It is often caused by too much exposure to the Sun's harmful rays.
- Pancreatic cancer - Cancer that forms in the pancreas organ.
- Prostate cancer - Cancer that forms in the prostate. Only men have prostates and typically get this cancer when they are older.
There are so many different types of cancer, that there are many different symptoms. However, the American Cancer Society gives seven common symptoms that can be warnings of cancer.
- A sore that doesn't heal or get better like normal.
- A change in the size, shape, color, or thickness of a mole or other sore.
- Difficulty in swallowing or a constant upset stomach.
- Change in bladder or bowel habits.
- Any type of constant or unusual bleeding.
- Any thick lump or growth.
- A constant cough or scratchy throat.
Many forms of cancer can be treated and even cured. Common treatments include the following:
- Surgery - Surgery is used to physically remove the cancer. In some cases the area or tumor where the cancer is located can be safely removed.
- Chemotherapy - Chemotherapy uses chemicals to kill cancerous cells. These chemicals target cells that divide rapidly, which is common to most cancer cells. Unfortunately, chemotherapy kills some good cells as well and can have harsh side effects.
- Radiation - Radiation uses high-energy waves to destroy cancer cells.
Many cancers require a combination of the above treatments.
Can you help prevent cancer?
The Mayo Clinic lists seven ways that you can reduce your risk of getting cancer.
- Don't use tobacco - This includes both smoking and chewing tobacco.
- Eat healthy - This means eating lots of fruits and vegetables as well as eating low fat foods.
- Exercise and have a healthy weight - Being overweight can increase the risk of getting various forms of cancer.
- Don't get sunburned - Protecting your skin from the Sun by using sunscreen and staying out of the Sun's rays during the middle of the day can lower the risk of skin cancer.
- Get immunized - Certain immunizations can help to prevent cancer.
- Avoid risky behaviors - Some actions such as sharing needles can pass diseases that can lead to cancer.
- See your doctor - Getting a regular checkup at the doctor can help to detect cancer early, which can be very important in having successful treatment.
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*** This page is not to be used as medical advice in any way. Please immediately consult your doctor if you have medical concerns.
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