It is now estimated that one in two people will get diagnosed with some form of cancer in their lifetime – but what actually causes cancerous cells and how can they be treated.
Cancer is caused by uncontrolled cell division, known as mitosis. This can be caused by proto-oncogenes that when mutated can become cancer causing oncogenes.
And it is when these oncogenes are activated that we see abnormal cell division occur, leading to cancer.
Mutations to tumour suppressor genes can also cause cancer. Their normal function is to regulate and destroy cells that divide too quickly.
Whatever the factor may be that brings about change in cell division, this is known as a mutagen. Both carcinogens and oncogenes are types of mutagens.
Beyond what is happening within the body, there are a number of external factors which we known to be carcinogenic.
UV light is a carcinogen known to cause skin cancer, human papilloma virus is known to cause cervical cancer. Polycyclic hydrocarbons are known to cause lung cancer and ionising radiation is a carcinogen known to cause lung, bone marrow or breast cancer
When cancer is detected there are two categories that a tumour can fall into – benign or malignant.
Malignant tumours can form secondary tumours known as metastases and are normally harmful. In comparison, benign tumours do not spread from their site of origin and are usually harmless.
So how can cancerous tumours be treated I hear you ask, well, there are a few ways.
One of the most popular treatments is chemotherapy. Chemotherapy uses chemicals to treat cancerous cells.
There are many different types of chemotherapy medication, but they all work in a similar way. They stop cancer cells reproducing, which prevents them from growing and spreading in the body.
As well as killing cancer cells, chemotherapy can damage some healthy cells in the body, such as blood cells, skin cells and cells in the stomach. This is the reason for many chemotherapy patients suffering from side effects such as vomiting and feeling tired.
Thankfully treatment of cancer has come on leaps and bounds in the last few years and now twice as many people are surviving cancer than 40 years ago – yay!