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What is Cancer and How Does it Develop?

November 10, 2022

Cancer is when certain cells inside the body start to grow uncontrollably. This uncontrollable growth of abnormal cells can develop pretty much anywhere in the body, including in the blood. Cancer can affect people of all ages. However, it’s more prominent in the older population because of their body’s slowing ability to identify and dispose of damaged DNA cells throughout the body.

What are the Differences Between Cancer Cells and Normal Cells?

When looking at cancer cells vs normal cells, there are many differences that you can take note of. These include:

  • They hide from your immune system, unlike normal cells.
  • They spread throughout the body by invading nearby areas.
  • They ignore regular cellular signals to stop dividing.
  • They control blood vessels to grow tumors.
  • They trick your immune system into helping them grow.
  • They alter chromosome parts.
  • They make energy from nutrients to grow more rapidly.

Cancer research is all about understanding how cancer biology works. This enables oncologists to identify abnormal traits and develop more effective treatment methods. For example, researchers know that blood vessels tend to be controlled by cancer cells to grow tumors. They’ve developed treatment therapies to prevent blood vessels from growing toward tumors.

How Does Cancer Develop?

The human body is comprised of trillions of cells. When the body has a demand for a particular type of cell, it will meet this demand through a process called cellular division. This is where a cell breaks into two cells.

Cellular division works great when the body has old or damaged cells that need to be replaced. Unfortunately, sometimes this natural process can break down. When wondering how people get cancer, this is how. When this happens, damaged and abnormal cells will start to multiply. They will form hard lumps that are referred to as tumors.

Contrary to common belief, tumors aren’t always cancerous. Tumors can be non-cancerous, which is medically referred to as benign, or determined to be cancerous.

To learn about early detection, check out our 7 Cancer Warning Signs article.

What Genetic Changes Contribute to Cancer?

Cancer is considered a genetic condition. While many people are under the false assumption that a genetic condition can only be inherited from one’s parents, that’s not always the case.

Cancer is considered a genetic condition because causes of cancer all have to deal with changing genes that control how our cells function. The most common causes of cancer include:

  • Inherited genes from one’s parents
  • Damage to DNA caused by harmful substances in one’s environment, like tobacco and UV rays
  • Errors that happened during cellular division

The specific cancer cells that develop in one’s body will have different genetic variations than the next person’s. This cancer biology is one of the reasons that success with different types of cancer treatment is very unique to the specific patient.

How Does Cancer Spread?

Whenever there are cancer cells that form tumors in the body, they can spread into nearby tissue or throughout other areas of the body. When this happens, it’s referred to formally as metastasis. Of all cancer types, this is the most deadly.

While cancer is well known to develop these hard lumps known as cancerous tumors, that’s not the only cancer type that can develop in the human body. Sometimes a cancer cell can develop in the blood instead of in the form of a lump. A common example of this is leukemia.

Some Useful Cancer Statistics to Know

Many people have preconceived notions when discussing the uncontrollable growth of abnormal cancer cells in the body. Looking at some common cancer statistics is a great way to help get a more solid idea of cancer and how it affects the population.

The most common cancers found in the United States include breast, lung, bladder, prostate, colon, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, melanoma of the skin, pelvis, leukemia, thyroid, liver cancer, liver cancer, and pancreatic cancer.

According to a 2020 study, 43% of cancer diagnoses in males were comprised of colon, prostate, and colorectal cancers. When it came to 50% of cancer diagnoses for women, the most common were breast, colorectal, and lung cancers.

To learn about cancer prevention, check out our article The Importance of Cancer Prevention Research.

About Horizon Oncology

With our key focus on patient experience, clinical pathways, and value-based care, Horizon Oncology is on the cutting edge of bringing innovative and quality treatment to patients in their communities. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help with all of your oncology needs.