“Cancer” is any abnormal growth of cells which tends to proliferate in an uncontrolled way and, in some cases, to metastasize (spread). Cancer is not one disease. It is a group of more than 100 different and distinctive diseases having in common this characteristic. Cancer can involve any tissue of the body and have many different forms in each body area. Most cancers are named for the type of cell or organ in which they originate. If a cancer spreads (metastasizes), the new tumor bears the same name as the original (primary) tumor. The frequency of a particular cancer may depend on age, gender, and sometimes ethnicity. While skin cancer is the most common type of malignancy for both men and women, the second most common type in men is prostate cancer and in women, breast cancer. Cancer frequency does not equate to cancer mortality. Skin cancers are often curable. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer for both men and women. The second most common cancer in men is prostate cancer, in women it is breast cancer. However, lung cancer is the leading cause of death from cancer for both men and women in the United States today.
In most individual cases of cancer, the exact cause is unknown. The causes may include increased genetic susceptibility; environmental insults, such as chemical exposure or smoking cigarettes; lifestyle factors, including diet; damage caused by infectious disease; and many more. Although they are not causes per se, many characteristics can influence the development of cancer. These include gender, race, age, and the health of the patient’s immune system. The link between overexposure to the sun and skin cancer is well-known, and individuals can easily reduce their risk by avoiding suntanning and sunburns. Smoking is an equally preventable predisposing factor which can be eliminated. Common commercial hair dyes are highly suspect in the provocation of many cancers including lymphoma and skin cancer. A greater-than-expected number of cancer cases that occurs within a group of people in a geographic area over a period of time is called a “cancer cluster.” When a cluster is identified an investigation may show the common provoking factor and this information can be used to help prevent similar outbreaks.
Symptoms of cancer can be abnormal sensations or perhaps unexplained loss of weight and/or appetite. If something about the way you feel or the way your body functions persists more than two weeks, it is important to see your doctor right away. The following is a partial list of common symptoms which can be associated with cancer: changes in bowel or bladder habits, a sore that does not heal, unusual bleeding or discharge, thickening or lump in the breast or any other part of the body, indigestion or difficulty swallowing, obvious change in a wart or mole, or nagging cough or hoarseness. These symptoms are not always a sign of cancer. They can also be caused by less serious conditions. However, if they occur, they should not be ignored or assumed to be from benign causes.