Cancer

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP
    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Dr. Balentine received his undergraduate degree from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in1983. He completed his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia and his Emergency Medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, where he served as chief resident.

View Cancer 101 Slideshow Pictures

What Is Cancer and What Causes It?

In the most basic terms, cancer refers to cells that grow out-of-control and invade other tissues. Cells become cancerous due to the accumulation of defects, or mutations, in their DNA. Certain:

  • inherited genetic defects (for example, BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations),
  • infections,
  • environmental factors (for example, air pollution), and
  • poor lifestyle choices -- such as smoking and heavy alcohol use -- can also damage DNA and lead to cancer.

Most of the time, cells are able to detect and repair DNA damage. If a cell is severely damaged and cannot repair itself it undergoes so-called programmed cell death or apoptosis. Cancer occurs when damaged cells grow, divide, and spread abnormally instead of self-destructing as they should.

Quick GuideCancer 101 Pictures Slideshow: A Visual Guide to Understanding Cancer

Cancer 101 Pictures Slideshow: A Visual Guide to Understanding Cancer

Cancer facts

  • Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells anywhere in a body.
  • There are over 200 types of cancer.
  • Anything that may cause a normal body cell to develop abnormally potentially can cause cancer; general categories of cancer-related or causative agents are as follows: chemical or toxic compound exposures, ionizing radiation, some pathogens, and human genetics.
  • Cancer symptoms and signs depend on the specific type and grade of cancer; although general signs and symptoms are not very specific the following can be found in patients with different cancers: fatigue, weight loss, pain, skin changes, change in bowel or bladder function, unusual bleeding, persistent cough or voice change, fever, lumps, or tissue masses.
  • Although there are many tests to screen and presumptively diagnose cancer, the definite diagnosis is made by examination of a biopsy sample of suspected cancer tissue.
  • Cancer staging is often determined by biopsy results and helps determine the cancer type and the extent of cancer spread; staging also helps caregivers determine treatment protocols. In general, in most staging methods, the higher the number assigned (usually between 0 to 4), the more aggressive the cancer type or more widespread is the cancer in the body.
  • Treatment protocols vary according to the type and stage of the cancer. Most treatment protocols are designed to fit the individual patient's disease. However, most treatments include at least one of the following and may include all: surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
  • There are many listed home remedies and alternative treatments for cancers but patients are strongly recommended to discuss these before use with their cancer doctors.
  • The prognosis of cancer can range from excellent to poor. The prognosis depends on the cancer type and its staging with those cancers known to be aggressive and those staged with higher numbers (3 to 4) often have a prognosis that ranges more toward poor.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/26/2016
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