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Cancer: the problem

Cancer is really hard to target.

Cancer cells are normal human body cells that are growing abnormally fast. Normal healthy body cells follow a carefully timed process of growth and division, followed by death. Cancer cells don’t follow this pattern: they don’t die.

The division of cancer cells can cause formation of lumps or masses of tissue called tumours.

Cancer cells photographed by a camera under a microscope using time-lapse photography. Source: Creative Commons (Asd.and.Rizzo)

A tumour is a collection of cancer cells, which are human body cells that are growing abnormally fast and dividing constantly.

Tumours can grow and interfere with the body working normally. They can cause problems in the circulatory, digestive and nervous systems and the uncontrolled release of hormones. In the case of leukaemia, cancer causes abnormal cell division in the blood stream that prevents normal blood function.

Benign tumours are ones that stay in one spot and do not show much growth. More dangerous tumours form when a cancer cell spreads through the body using the blood or lymph system and new tumours grow in a different place.

There are over 100 different types of cancer.


A Cancer Animation

This Youtube clip was originally created by BioDigital Systems. It is a good animation that explains the basics of cancer.


Cancer: limited solutions

Causes of cancer are thought to include:

  • Genetic problems
  • Excessive sunlight exposure
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Tobacco smoking or exposure to it
  • Exposure to chemicals
  • Obesity

The huge variation in causes of cancer complicates any effort to cure the condition. It is worth noting that several of the above contributing factors are lifestyle choices.


Diagnosing Cancer

Medical imaging techniques such as MRI scans, X-rays, CT scans and ultrasounds are used to help to diagnose cancer.

These techniques show pictures of the inside of the body and allow experienced doctors to spot tumours. Endoscopies (inserting a thin tube with a camera and light into the body) are also used to spot signs of cancer.

The only certain way to diagnose cancer is by biopsy, where cells are removed from the body and examined under microscope.