Understanding America’s Leading Cause of Death: Cancer

The most common cause of death in America, cancer is a frightening and devastating disease. About 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed with cancer every year.

There are over 100 types of cancer, which harms the body by altering cells. These altered cells can affect the digestive, nervous, and circulatory systems as they release hormones. Whereas normal, healthy cells grow to a limited size and then divide and die, cancer cells grow out of control and divide continuously without dying.

This unstopped growth, called metastasis , often produces tumors. Tumors that stay where they originally formed are not as dangerous as malignant tumors. But malignant tumors travel throughout the body, continuing to grow, and become much harder to treat as the tumor cells metastasize.

When detected at an early stage of growth, cancer is easier to treat. However, because only some kinds of cancer present symptoms, many people with cancer do not realize it until later stages. Cancer can cause symptoms like fever, blood loss, headaches, pain, and fatigue. Colon, rectal, prostate, and bladder cancers often result in bloody stool and urine and unusual discharge. Thyroid cancer can cause persistent coughing. Bumps and lumps under the skin may be a sign of breast cancer, which is one of the most common types of cancer. And moles, warts, color changes to the skin, dark spots on the skin, increased hair growth, and yellow eyes can indicate skin cancers.

One can reduce her risk of developing cancer in a number of ways. For example: do not use tobacco (its components are carcinogenic and can produce lung cancer); limit alcohol consumption; avoid exposure to UV rays like the ones from tanning beds; use sunscreen (even if you do not burn and even if it is cloudy outside); maintain a healthy diet; and exercise regularly. Further, because other types of disease like HPV and Hepatitis B can lead to cancer, it is important to have regular checkups with a doctor and to get the appropriate vaccines.

The World Health Organization predicts that increasing percentages of people will develop cancer in the next 20 years. Specifically, research indicates that one out of every two men and one out of every three women will be diagnosed with cancer.

Fortunately, cancer is not always deadly. When caught early enough, it can be treated in a variety of ways. Cancer treatments include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immune therapy, targeted therapy, hormone therapy, and stem cell transplants. Doctors choose which treatment course to follow depending on the type of cancer. Unfortunately, many cancer treatments have nasty side effects.

Cancer is a dangerous disease. Even though it is scary, it is important to educate ourselves about this topic so that we can take preventative measures and be aware of the warning signs.

[Sources: NIH National Cancer Institute ; Health Line; Medical News Today ]