What Causes Cancer
Cancer is the disease of the cells. It is an abnormal growth of cells, which tend to reproduce in an uncontrolled way and, in some cases, spread or metastasize. A cancerous growth or tumor is also known as a malignant growth or tumor. A growth or tumor, which is non-malignant is called benign. Such tumors are not cancer.
Cancer is not a single disease. It is a group of more than hundred different and distinctive diseases. It is not contagious. Cancer can involve any tissue of the body and have many different forms in each body area. Most cancers are named for the type of cell or organ in which they start. If a cancer spreads (metastasizes), the new tumor bears the same name as the original(primary) tumor.
Cancer is the Latin word for crab. The ancients used the word to mean a malignancy, doubtless because of the crab-like tenacity a malignant tumor sometimes seems to show in grasping the tissues it invades. Cancer may also be called malignancy, a malignant tumor, or a neoplasm (literally, a new growth).
In medicine, common term for neoplasms, or tumors, that are malignant is known as Cancer. Like benign tumors, malignant tumors do not respond to body mechanisms that limit cell growth. Unlike benign tumors, malignant tumors consist of undifferentiated, or unspecialized, cells that show an atypical cell structure and do not function like the normal cells from the organ from which they derive. Cancer cells, unlike normal cells, lack contact inhibition; cancer cells growing in laboratory tissue culture do not stop growing when they touch each other on a glass or other solid surface but grow in masses several layers deep.
Cancer results from mutations of certain genes that allow the cells to begin their uncontrolled growth. These mutations are either inherited or acquired. Acquired mutations are caused by repeated insults from triggers (e.g., cigarette smoke or ultraviolet rays) referred to as carcinogens. There is usually a latency period of years or decades between exposure to a carcinogen and the appearance of cancer. This, combined with the individual nature of susceptibility to cancer, makes it very difficult to establish a cause for many cancers.
The most significant avoidable carcinogens are the chemical components of tobacco smoke. Dietary components, like excessive consumption of alcohol or of foods high in fat and low in fiber rather than fruits and vegetables that contain antioxidants and necessary micronutrients, have also been linked with various cancers. Some cancers may be triggered by hormone imbalances. For example, some daughters of mothers who had been given DES (diethylstilbestrol) during pregnancy to prevent miscarriage developed vaginal adenocarcinomas as young women. Aflatoxins are natural mold byproducts that can cause cancer of the liver.
Certain carcinogens present occupational hazards. For example, in the asbestos industry, workers have a high probability of developing lung and colon cancer or a particularly virulent cancer of the mesothelium (the lining of the chest and abdomen). Benzene and vinyl chloride are other known industrial carcinogens.
Risk to humans from carcinogens depends upon the dose and a person’s biologic susceptibility. Factors influencing a person’s biological susceptibility to cancer include age, sex, immune status, nutritional status, genetics, and ethnicity.