What is Cancer?

In the wake of several celebrities dying from cancer recently, namely David Bowie, and Alan Rickman. I though I would take a moment to talk about what cancer is and why finding a cure is more complicated than it sounds. First let me start by saying that I am actually a cancer researcher, I wake up everyday go to work, put on my lab coat on and work to cure cancer, so it is safe to say that I have some knowledge on this subject (that being said I’m going to keep this simple). Half of all men and a third of all women in the United States will get cancer. Stop, now read that sentence again. Sounds high doesn’t it, but I would bet anyone of us knows at least one person, if not a family member, who has had one form of cancer or another. With these statistics being as high as they are it is amazing to me the number of people who don’t know the first thing about cancer. So today I want to give a brief explanation of what cancer is and why curing it is a bitch. Most of us are aware that the cell is the basic building block of life. An easy way to think of a cell is to imagine it as a little machine it takes in nutrients and preforms basic tasks that keep it alive and when the time comes it multiplies and/or dies off depending on what type of cell it is. There are so many cells in the human body that the number is virtually astronomical, and all these cells are super efficient at their jobs, more efficient than best computer on the market. Even so sometimes errors are made, these are called mutations. These mutations can be the cause of many diseases, but when we talk about cancer we are mainly talking about mutations in the cells growth. Specifically the things that tell a cell to stop multiplying or tell it when to die. These signals come from the cells DNA which for all intensive purposes is the brain of the cell, and that is where these mutations occur. As a result these cells grow larger than they should and multiply more rapidly than they should and no longer do the work that they should be doing. Soon they grow into a large mass that is called a tumor. These can be hazardous in multiple ways not the least of which is just getting in the way. They can block blood flow or clog your lungs or intestines, they also muscle out normal cells that are working properly leaving the body with not enough workers to preform essential tasks like breathing. Now here is the hard part, every persons DNA is different and therefore every persons cancer is different. There are also many different areas of the body that can get cancer and each one of these is unique as well. Finally there are many different types of mutations that can occur and often there are multiple mutations present in a single tumor. That is the crux of the problem with finding a cure, there isn’t just one type cancer there are many many types and each will require its own unique cure. Good news is your chances are much better now than they once were and there are people working everyday trying to improve your odds.


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