Cancer - Describe Your Experience

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What is cancer?

Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells anywhere in a body. These abnormal cells are termed cancer cells, malignant cells, or tumor cells. Many cancers and the abnormal cells that compose the cancer tissue are further identified by the name of the tissue that the abnormal cells originated from (for example, breast cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer). Cancer is not confined to humans; animals and other living organisms can get cancer. Below is a schematic that shows normal cell division and how when a cell is damaged or altered without repair to its system, the cell usually dies. Also shown is what occurs when such damaged or unrepaired cells do not die and become cancer cells and show uncontrolled division and growth -- a mass of cancer cells develop. Frequently, cancer cells can break away from this original mass of cells, travel through the blood and lymph systems, and lodge in other organs where they can again repeat the uncontrolled growth cycle. This process of cancer cells leaving an area and growing in another body area is termed metastatic spread or metastasis. For example, if breast cancer cells spread to a bone, it means that the individual has metastatic breast cancer to bone. This is not the same as "bone cancer," which would mean the cancer had started in the bone.

There are over 200 types of cancers; most can fit into the following categories according to the National Cancer Institute:

  • Carcinoma: Cancer that begins in the skin or in tissues that line or cover internal organs
  • Sarcoma: Cancer that begins in bone, cartilage, fat, muscle, blood vessels, or other connective or supportive tissue
  • Leukemia: Cancer that starts in blood-forming tissue such as the bone marrow and causes large numbers of abnormal blood cells to be produced and enter the blood
  • Lymphoma and myeloma: Cancers that begin in the cells of the immune system
  • Central nervous system cancers: Cancers that begin in the tissues of the brain and spinal cord

The following table (National Cancer Institute) gives the estimated numbers of new cases and deaths for each common cancer type:

TypeEstimated New CasesEstimated Deaths
Breast (female -- male)232,670 -- 2,36040,000 -- 430
Colon and Rectal (combined)136,83050,310
Kidney (renal cell and renal pelvis)63.92013,860
Leukemia (all types)52,38024.090
Lung (including bronchus)224,210159,260
Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma70,80018,990

The three most common cancers in men, women, and children in the U.S. are as follows:

  • Men: Prostate, lung, and colorectal
  • Women: Breast, lung, and colorectal
  • Children: Leukemia, brain tumors, and lymphoma

The incidence of cancer and cancer types are influenced by many factors such as age, gender, race, local environmental factors, diet, and genetics. Consequently, the incidence of cancer and cancer types vary depending on these variable factors. For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) provides the following general information about cancer worldwide:

  • Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide. It accounted for 8.2 million deaths (around 22% of all deaths not related to communicable diseases) in 2012 (most recent data).
  • Lung, stomach, liver, colon, and breast cancer cause the most cancer deaths each year.
  • Deaths from cancer worldwide are projected to continue rising, with an estimated 13.1 million deaths in 2030.

Different areas of the world may have cancers that are either more or less predominant then those found in the U.S. One example is that stomach cancer is often found in Japan, while it is rarely found in the U.S.

The objective of this article is to introduce the reader to general aspects of cancers. It is designed to be an overview of cancer and cannot cover every cancer type. This article will also attempt to help guide the reader to more detailed sources about specific cancer types.

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See what others are saying

Comment from: cancer warrior, 45-54 Female (Patient) Published: October 14

I had just been blessed with a 2 1/2 year old baby boy in November 2005. The first year was really tough for me for he was a meth baby and could not sleep at night. The crying would go on for hours. I would hold and sing to him and one night I noticed that I was getting severe back pain and pain in my upper right rib cage. The following year, I found a mass in my right breast and suddenly, I got a strange feeling in my gut. For the next week, I would make up stories about the mass and finally had to come to conclusion this could be serious. In January 2007, I got a mammogram and within 10 days I got the letter and a phone call from my GYN. A second mammogram and ultrasound was performed, then another call for a needle biopsy. That's when I was diagnosed with "Abrasive lobor carcinoma." Within a week, I had a breast MRI, blood work, a port placed in my right side of my chest and my first chemo treatment. As I continue to receive chemo, every week, there were times I wanted to die. I lost my hair and my eyelashes, and my finger nails began to loosen and fall off. I had sores in my mouth and a metallic taste, which made it hard to eat or swallow. I would cry everyday when I looked at myself in the mirror and wondered if I was going to make it. Although, when I went in front of the public, I was smiling and continued to work. Attitude is very important and not to ask Why me? (although it is very normal to ask), but ask, What can I do to beat this? " I was in stage 4, and the cancer had spread to my liver, spine, pelvis, and ribs. By the grace of God and a good Doctor, my life was spared. I had so many people praying for me. I saw God's face and who is really is. I was in remission or a year and a half. It now has come back for the third time, but I have peace and will fight this battle again.

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Comment from: mimi, 55-64 Female (Caregiver) Published: April 08

My sister was diagnosed with cancer of the bile duct in her liver in September of 2009. She went through extensive chemo and radiation and lost weight down to 92 pounds before she got a liver transplant in February. She was recovering and was sent home a week later. She lived until March 11 of this year. She died from a blood clot, but I don't understand why. I believe if the doctor had tested her when she first started going for headaches and other problems, she might have been saved. They were treating her for thyroid problems. She turned yellow, and her husband took her to the emergency room. That is when they found out she had tumors in her bile duct. Please get second opinions if you are not getting better. I wish things could have been different for her.

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