What is Cancer?

Currently you can access a lot of resources with Cancer information. Thanks to internet. The word Cancer is a Latin word for crab or creeping ulcer. Hippocrates used the term karkinos (greek word for crab) for cancerous tumours. This is because their enlarged veins look like the legs of a crab. Tumour is a Latin word for swelling.

There are 2 types of tumours: Benign and Malignant tumours. Cancer is the later.


Cancer cells have 4 important characteristics:

  • Poorly differentiated cells:  Meaning they express little resemblance to normal cells of the tissue of origin.
  • Irregular and slow to rapid growing abnormal cells.
  • Invasion and infiltration of local tissues.
  • Metastasis (greek word: methistanai or to change): Capacity of cells to break away and start growing in a distant organ.


There are different groups of cancer depending on their origin for example:

  • Carcinoma (most frequent) originates from epithelial cells like lung, breast, prostate, colon
  • Sarcoma is from bone and soft tissues
  • Leukaemia and Lymphoma develop from blood cells
  • Germ cells tumors are from cells that produce sperms or eggs
  • Blastomas originate from embryonic tissue

According to the World Health Organization cancers are one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide. More than 60% of new cases occur in Africa, Asia and America (Central and South). Cancer claims around 8.2million lives each year and this equals to 13% of all deaths worldwide. 70% increase in new cases are expected over the next 2 decades. One third of deaths are related to some preventable factors listed later. Tobacco alone causes 22% of deaths.

Causes of death according to frequency

1. Lung
2. Stomach
3. Liver
4. Colorectal
5. Oesophagus

1. Breast
2. Lung
3. Stomach
4. Colorectal
5. Cervical

Identified causes include

  • Genetics: if cancer runs in the family
  • Chemicals like tobacco smoke, asbestos, food and drinking water contaminants
  • Continuous exposure to high dose of ionizing radiation
  • Some microorganisms that produce infections like Hepatitis B and C, AIDS, Papilloma.

What you can do

Research has shown that at least 30% of this disease can be prevented by considering the following factors:

1. Reducing Tobacco and alcohol intake
2. Doing exercise to keep fit
3. Prevention or Immunisation against infection of Hepatitis B virus and Human Papillomavirus
4. Avoiding Air pollution and radiations
5. Maintaining a healthy diet

Early detection: this has to do with awareness of early signs and symptoms. Breast, cervical and colorectal cancer can be cured if detected early and treated effectively.

Screening: these are tests for selecting people with signs and symptoms similar to cancer. The American Cancer Society has an up to date guidelines for early detection.


The goal is to improve a patient’s life. The most frequent cancers have high cure rate when detected early. This includes breast, cervical, oral and colorectal cancer. Others like blood cancers although disseminated can also have high cure rate.

Treatment options can be one or combination of

  1. Surgery
  2. Radiotherapy
  3. Chemotherapy
  4. Palliative care aims at relieving but not curing symptoms so that patients especially in advanced stages can live more comfortably.

Researches are ongoing to understand better the pathology and increase effectiveness of treatment.

Please remember that 4th of February is World Cancer day. It is an initiative of the Union for International Cancer Control to increase awareness and foster prevention and treatment thereby reducing sickness and death from the disease.

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