Where did it all start?
The father of medicine, Hippocrates, gave cancer its name. The word cancer is derived from the Greek word for crab. However, cancer was discovered long before it got its name, i.e. way back in 1500 BC to be precise. Ancient Egypt holds the oldest documented case on papyrus, where about 8 cases of breast tumors had been documented at the time.
Even back then, there were no cures for the disease. Cauterization was a treatment technique followed in ancient times, and people could only tell the difference between malignant and benign tumors.
Early Greek physicians could not understand why cancer occurred. Hippocrates opined that the human body consisted of four kinds of fluid- blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. It was given to understand that it was the excess accumulation of black bile in any part/organ of the body that caused cancer. The belief held for 1400 years.
1761 saw the birth of pathological autopsies, which is when discovery took new directions and all kinds of breakthroughs were made in the field of science and medicine.
Cancer as we know it today is defined as cell growth that goes out of control. Cells have a fixed agenda- they grow, they divide, and once the job is done, they die, but if they don’t die, they can become cancerous since they keep growing and dividing without any control.
Cancer has more than 100 variants, and each is characterized by the cell that it afflicts. Cancer occurs when damaged cells start dividing in an uncontrolled manner, and this causes lumps or tumors. These tumors grow and start interfering with normal body functions like digestion, the nervous stem, the circulatory system, etc.
Tumors are of two types: benign and malignant. Benign tumors are those that don’t travel and are limited in their ability to grow. Malignant tumors occur when one cancerous cell finds its way out by using the lymph system or the blood stream, due to which healthy tissue starts getting destroyed.
This process is called invasion. The cell now starts dividing and growing and making new blood vessels so it can feed itself. This process is called angiogenesis. Successful spreading of this tumor, its growth, and the destruction of healthy tissues indicates that the tumor has metastasized. This condition is very serious and almost untreatable.
Family history of cancer
The individual risk is of getting cancer is dependent on the genes inherited from parents and family. If there are some faulty genes in your system at birth, you are at risk for cancer. However, only about 5-10% of the cancer cases are considered due to faulty genes. There are high risk genes, low risk, and medium risk genes. A talk with your family GP, some genetic testing, and regular screening should ensure you know more about it and are able to steer clear of this problem.
If there is a history of cancer related deaths in the family, then it is good idea to get regular checkups done to ensure you have not developed the same. It does not matter if cancer ran or runs in both sides of the family or only on one side, because you would be at risk either way.
An analysis of the types of cancers in your family will give you a better idea of what you could expect. Of course, there is no hard and fast rule that says if your grandpa, grandma, uncle, aunt or great grand someone had cancer, so will you. It’s just that your chances are higher than the average person.
Keep a few pointers in mind like:
- Has any member contracted the problem before the age of 50?
- Has anyone had multiple tumor cancer? For example, in both breasts?
Today, science and technology have made massive inroads into our understanding the human system. Cures and treatments are being found even as we speak. While some cancers are not curable, there are many whose progress can be arrested and maybe even cured.
Cancer being the kind of disease that it is has brought with it myriad myths. The fact is that you cannot get cancer like you contract flu or the common cold. There are certain conditions that create an atmosphere in your body that make the cells go awry. Smoking tobacco is one such condition, and so is too much alcohol, too much exposure to chemicals, poor health, a bad diet, etc.
Popular Myths Busted
- Hair dye causes brain cancer: This is a no-brainer. No connection between the two has been found so far.
- Cell phones cause cancer: Again, no credible study has been able to prove this.
- If your mom or dad had cancer, you will have it too: Breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and colorectal cancer can and may be genetically passed down, but there is nothing in the rule book that says you HAVE to have it. The possibility exists, but the guarantee? No.
- Cancer causes hair loss: No. Treatments like chemotherapy etc. MAY cause hair loss. It depends on the individual’s capability to handle the exposure to radiation etc.
- Only women get breast cancer: This is the biggest myth. Men also get breast cancer, though it is not as common as breast cancer in women.
- There is a cure for cancer, but pharmaceutical companies are hiding it: This has no basis, because then, at least the employees working in pharmaceutical companies would be safe from the onset of this disease!
- Cancer is almost always fatal: Almost is the key word here. Most cancers are curable if detected on time. Today, approximately 40% of all patients live about 5 years more when treated for cancer.
- Wearing antiperspirants and deodorant can cause cancer: This is yet another myth that has no basis to it. Recent studies have found no conclusive results to prove that deodorants etc. cause cancer.
- Some types of cancer can be contagious: Cancer is not contagious, but there are two cancer causing viruses that are contagious: they are HPV and Hepatitis C. HPV is cervical cancer that can occur through unprotected sex, and Hepatitis C can be contracted via blood transfusions or needle sharing.
- Positive thinking will cure cancer: If only it were so easy. Positive thinking will affect your overall quality of life while undergoing treatment. Emotions do impact health so being positive is important.