Knowing that they have cancer is a frightening and stressful experience for any person. Sadly, millions of people around the globe are living with different types of cancers. However, not all cancers are life-threatening and millions of people also get cured permanently. Hence, whether you have been diagnosed with cancer or you fear the disease – cancer awareness can empower you to maintain a healthy lifestyle, receive proper cancer treatment, and help others. So, how does cancer start, what are its early signs, and what can you do to reduce your chances of suffering from cancer?

Overview of Cancer

The term ‘cancer’ encompasses a large group of serious diseases that have one common characteristic: when normal cells end up becoming cancerous cells, they multiply and then start spreading. The development of these abnormal cells happens uncontrollably, and they divide fast, thus having the ability of infiltrating and destroying normal tissues and spreading throughout the person’s body.

Presently, cancer is the second-biggest cause of demise in the world. However, the survival rates for various kinds of cancers are improving, thanks to the spread of cancer awareness and remarkable improvements in cancer screening, prevention, and treatment.

How Are Normal Cells Different from Cancer Cells?

When everything is normal, cells have a habit of following instructions given by genes. Cells follow the rules set down by genes and figure out when to grow and when to stop growing. The problem with cancerous cells is that they ignore these cell division rules followed by normal cells:

  • Normal cells grow and divide in a controlled way. Cancerous cells will grow uncontrollably.
  • Normal cells are subject to apoptosis, that is, they die. Cancerous cells will not pay attention to these directions.
  • For solid organs, normal cells stay put. Cancerous cells don’t just grow and multiply but move around.
  • The growth rate of normal cells is slow compared to cancerous cells.

How Does Cancer Start? How Cancer Spreads?

Genetic mutations are the beginning of cancers. When one or multiple genes mutate, cancerous cells are created. These abnormal cells create tumors or cancer clusters in different parts of the body. If there are cancerous cells in a tumor, they can break away using your body’s lymphatic system and travel to any area of the body. This phenomenon is called metastasis by healthcare providers.

For instance, if there is a tumor in one of your breasts and it has cancerous cells, it can spread to the lungs and cause lung cancer. Blood cancer is among the most dangerous ones as cancer cells grow and divide uncontrollably in the bone marrow.

But what are the causative agents of gene mutations? People inherit some gene mutations from their parents. This type is responsible for causing a very small percentage of cancers. Most genetic mutations are not inherited, and they can be due to a number of factors like smoking, carcinogens exposure, obesity, chronic inflammation, lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating habits, etc. Scroll down as we have explained the rick factors in detail.

Symptoms of Cancer Identified by Cancer Research UK

A complicated disease, cancer can slowly spread in an individual’s body without showing any noticeable signs at all and then getting worse suddenly. As far as the symptoms are concerned, many cancers have the same kind of symptoms, and they are so similar to other not-so-serious ailments that most people think they are fine. These are some of the early signs of cancer:

  • Sudden and significant weight loss
  • Fever (occurring mostly at night) and night sweats 
  • Skin changes (new moles or an existing mole changing in size and shape)
  • Persistent pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Bleeding and bruising more easily
  • Loss of appetite and digestive issues
  • Hoarseness
  • Trouble breathing and recurring cough
  • Alterations in bowel habits and bladder movements
  • Persistent joint or muscle pain
  • Bumps or lumps under the skin that won’t go away

If these symptoms don’t disappear after two weeks or you notice other changes in your body, it will be better to visit your healthcare provider for a check-up.

What Can Cause Cancer?

The survival rate of cancer patients has increased significantly than the survival rate that was a decade ago. Innovative treatments and early detection are curing this deadly disease and helping more patients live longer. Medical researchers have also identified several cancer risk factors that are linked to the development of cancer.

Intrigued to know the causes of cancer? While a range of factors can cause cancers, it is in our hands to prevent 30- 50% of cancers by reducing dietary and behavioral risk factors. These include:

1.  Age

There’s a reason why most people suffering from cancer are older adults. It is more common in senior citizens as cancer may take decades to gradually develop. That does not mean children and young adults cannot be diagnosed with cancer. However, once you have reached 60, you should go for yearly check-ups so that the disease can be detected at the earliest.

2. Smoking

The link between smoking and cancer cannot be denied as around 22% of deaths due to cancer is because of smoking tobacco. Smoking cigars and cigarettes for an extended period of time increases the chances of developing 20 types of cancers like pancreatic, oral, esophageal, and lung cancer. Many people think that they are too smart, and they switch to -e-cigarettes but these too can cause cancer.

3.  Environment

Studies have revealed that there’s a connection between environmental pollutants and cancer. The environment contains toxins such as pesticides, radon, and asbestos and prolonged exposure to these toxins can eventually make you a cancer patient.

4. UV Radiation Effects

Going on a beach trip and soaking too much sun might sound fun, but by doing this, you are exposing your skin to harmful UV radiation, and this can contribute to cancer (melanoma). A lot of people have skin cancers and one of the leading causes is ultraviolet radiation. So, now you know that applying sunscreen is crucial not just to maintain a bright and fair skin tone but also to stay cancer-free.

5. Hormonal therapy

Many women opt for hormone replacement therapy without knowing that it is one of the causes of cancer. Hormone replacement therapy has been linked with endometrial cancer and breast cancer.

6. Consumption Alcohol

Alcohol consumption and cancer development can go hand in hand. In the year 2020, nearly 4% of cancer patients were found to be alcoholics. Even moderate intake of alcohol can increase the changes of six kinds of cancer: breast cancer, pharynx cancer, larynx cancer, stomach and liver cancer, and colorectal cancer.

7. Poor nutrition and unhealthy diet

Diet and cancer risk has been the topic of discussion in many cancer research institutes, and it has been discovered that the risk of cancer is less in a person who eats a nutrient-rich diet than a person with unhealthy eating habits. There is sufficient evidence that reveals how having processed meats (bacon, sausages, salami, and ham) can lead to bowel cancer. If your diet is high in sugars, salt, and red meat, the chances of developing cancers increase.

8. Obesity

If you have excess body fat, you can suffer from 12 kinds of cancers in the gallbladder, colon, kidneys, breast, prostate, ovary, etc. Hence, physical activity and cancer prevention are deeply connected.

9. Chronic inflammation

Chronic inflammation and cancer risks is yet another concern for doctors. Sometimes, when infections don’t go away, chronic inflammation might show up. Conditions like unusual immune reactions and obesity can trigger chronic inflammation. Over time, this can result in DNA damage and cancer.

10. Viruses

Viruses can transform a normal cell to a cancerous cell. HPV (human papillomavirus) is one such virus and more than 50% of cervical cancers are because of HPV infection. Hepatitis C and Hepatitis B viruses, on the other hand, can cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma and liver cancer.

Can You Prevent Cancer?

While it is impossible to prevent cancer, doctors recommend several ways to minimize the risk of cancer:

  1. Smoking and drinking cause many cancer deaths and so, quit these nasty habits.
  2. Have cancer screenings regularly as it is easy to kill cancer cells when the disease is detected at an early stage.
  3. Irrespective of your busy schedule, you must spend at least 30 minutes exercising. 
  4. Manage your weight and eat healthy foods.
  5. Wear sunglasses, sunscreen, and appropriate clothing to avoid contact of your skin with UV rays and reduce the risk of skin cancer.

Diagnosis and Recovery

Now that you have learned how does cancer startand what are the best steps to keep cancer away, you must be curious to know what to know about its diagnosis and treatment as well. Doctors perform blood tests, biopsies, and imaging tests. Once cancer cells are found, the next step is to determine the stage. Then begins the treatment based on the type of cancer. Surgery, immunotherapy, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy are the best options.

To Sum Up 

We may conclude by saying that understanding cancer, how cancer grows and may spread to other parts, and what treatment to receive will help you make lifestyle alterations and keep your family cancer-free. For people with cancer, knowing how cancer can grow and spread will make the recovery journey less intimidating. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What are the main factors that contribute to the start of cancer in the body?

The key factors that help cancer cells thrive in your body are over-consumption of processed foods and red meat, smoking, drinking, and staying overweight. These things cause gene mutations and normal cells may become cancerous then. 

Q. How can lifestyle choices influence the risk of developing cancer?

People who are overweight, always take stress, smoke and drink alcohol in excess, and eat saturated fats and high-calorie foods regularly have an increased risk of being diagnosed with cancer. So, several types of cancers can be prevented by making the right lifestyle choices and going for regular screening tests.