Many people don’t think they’re at risk of cancer until it’s too late—but early detection of cancer can mean the difference between life and death. If you or someone you know has a new or unusual symptom, it’s important to speak with your doctor. In this blog post, we will discuss how cancer forms and ways to detect it so that early detection can save your life and your loved ones
Cell and Cell division to know more about Cancer
The cell cycle is the process by which a cell grows and divides. The cell cycle is made up of interphase (G1, S, and G2 phases), followed by mitosis, and finally cytokinesis.
Mitosis is the phase in which cells divide to produce two identical daughter cells. During mitosis, chromosomes line up in pairs within the nucleus before they are separated—one copy goes into each daughter cell.
Cells divide to produce new cells
When a cell divides to produce new cells, it’s called cell division.
Cell division happens in the body all the time. It can be triggered by an injury or infection, or just because it’s part of the normal process of aging.
In fact, every day your body replaces about 100 billion cells with old ones that die out.
The lifespan of most normal cells is about 50 divisions before they die and are replaced by new ones.
So when we talk about cancerous cells dividing too quickly or too often, it means that their division rate is abnormal compared to healthy cells’ rate.
Tumor Suppressor genes control the rate at which cells grow and divide
Tumor suppressor genes control the rate at which cells grow and divide. Normal, healthy cells contain thousands of these genes.
When they’re functioning normally, they keep cell division under control so that only when the body needs more cells will those changes occur.
The most common mutation is seen in p53 (a type of protein), which usually prevents damaged DNA from passing on to new cells by stopping cell division.
If there’s anything wrong with your DNA sequence—that’s called genomic instability—but if this gene mutates it won’t do its job anymore and can lead to cancer developing.
Proto-oncogenes signal cells to grow and divide
There are certain genes that signal cells to grow and divide. These are called proto-oncogenes, and they’re responsible for normal cell growth and division.
A mutation in a proto-oncogene may cause a cell to grow and divide uncontrollably, leading to cancerous tumors. Proto-oncogenes are often found in the same location as oncogenes, which code for proteins that control cell growth or suppress it.
Mutations in proto-oncogenes can turn them into oncogenes
Proteins called “proto-oncogenes” are normal genes that control cell growth and division. They can become oncogenes if they acquire mutations.
When an oncogene is mutated, it can cause cells to divide uncontrollably and form tumors.
Oncogenes cause cancer by turning off normal growth controls or by turning on mechanisms that stimulate cell growth
A damaged DNA molecule causes genetic changes that lead to cancer formation. These alterations can occur either through mutation or epigenetic modification. Some examples of such defects include:
- A change in a single letter of your DNA code may make a protein coded by the altered gene work differently than its counterpart without this change — thus causing abnormal cell growth;
- Multiple copies of certain genes could be produced if there is more than one copy per genome (the total number of chromosomes);
- A missing piece from a chromosome may result when a part breaks off during replication. This piece could contain information about how many copies should be made before reaching its destination.
Earlier detection of cancer is important
You’ve probably heard about the importance of early detection for many types of cancer. Doctors and researchers are always looking for earlier ways to find cancer, so it can be treated before it spreads or causes any symptoms.
There are many screening tests that use imaging technologies such as X-rays and ultrasounds.
Screening tests look for signs that something is going on in your body. Some people might have a higher risk of developing some cancers than others and need to be tested more often than others.
- Women over age 50 should get mammograms every year because they have a higher risk of breast cancer.
- Men over 65 should check prostate or talk with their doctors about whether they need regular prostate exams.
- People who have been diagnosed with colorectal polyps should talk with their doctors about how often they should get colonoscopies (a special type of endoscopy) again after having one done every two years.
- People living near nuclear power plants may want to consider getting an annual exam. At one of several federally-funded “Radiation Dose Registry” clinics throughout the country.
Pap smears are important tools for detecting cervical cancer, and other types of cancer early.
A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast tissue that can detect tumors that are too small to be felt by hand.
During a pap smear, cells from the cervix (the opening to your uterus) are collected on a slide and examined under a microscope for signs of abnormal cells.
Cancer that’s detected earlier is easier to treat
In general, cancer that’s detected early is easier to treat. If cancer hasn’t spread and you have an accurate diagnosis, your treatment options will be better.
Early detection can improve your chances of survival in several ways:
- It could be a tumor is confined to one area of the body and can be easily removed surgically. That reduces the risk for other types of treatment like radiation therapy or chemotherapy.
- If you’ve been diagnosed with a type of cancer that has a high remission rate (around 95 percent) but not necessarily long-term survival (about five years), early detection gives you an advantage in recovery. Because it gives your immune system more time to fight off any remaining cancer cells before they become resistant to treatment. This gives doctors more time to treat any metastases—that is, growths outside the primary site.
There is no single test that can detect all cancers early
An annual physical exam is the best way to detect cancer early, but there’s more you can do. If you have any new symptoms or changes in your body, tell your doctor about them.
Some common warning signs include:
- A lump, discoloration, or swelling in the breast;
- Bloody urine or stool.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Fatigue or weakness.
- Indigestion that doesn’t go away after over-the-counter medication.
Some symptoms are important to tell your doctor about right away
Some symptoms are important to tell your doctor about right away. These include:
- Bloody or tarry stools (poop).
- Bowel movements that look like tar, coffee grounds, or black and tarry stool.
- Red or black urine.
These symptoms can be caused by many things, but you should call your doctor if you have them. Your doctor will talk with you about what may be causing the problem and how to treat it.
If you notice a new symptom or change in your body, tell your doctor about it. No matter how old you are. If you have any of the following symptoms and do not know what causes them or if they do not go away, tell your doctor:
- A lump or thickening in the breast that is new
- A sore that doesn’t heal after two weeks
- Changes to bowel or bladder habits that last more than two weeks
- Change in the size, shape, or color of a mole on your skin
The sooner you tell your doctor about a new or unusual symptom, the sooner you can get medical advice
You may have been given some clues about your cancer risk. But you can never be sure what it is until you get tested.
Knowing your own risk is important, but knowing the signs and symptoms of cancer can help you catch it earlier—when treatment works best.
The American Cancer Society recommends that adults see their doctor at least twice a year. once to have their physical exam (including a pelvic exam) and again during regular checkups to discuss changes in health status since their last visit.
Cancer detection techniques
Confirming the presence of cancer is the first step in diagnosing cancer. There are several ways to do this, each of which can be performed on its own or in combination:
- Biopsy – A biopsy is when a sample of tissue is removed from your body for examination under a microscope by a pathologist. It’s usually done after an imaging test like a CT scan or MRI has suggested you have cancer, but it can also be performed alone if there are abnormal cells that your doctor wants to look at more closely.
- Imaging tests – These tests use X-ray machines, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners, computed tomography (CT) scans, and other forms of technology. They help doctors see how deep into the body something has gone without having to cut into people’s bodies first—and sometimes without even touching them at all! An example would be endoscopy.
Familial cancer syndrome is an inherited condition that increases the risk of developing cancer. It’s caused by a mutation in a gene that normally works to suppress tumors.
Familial cancer syndromes can be passed down through families through the generations. One example is Li-Fraumeni Syndrome (LFS), where people are more likely than others to develop certain types of cancer at an early age.
Cancer screening tests can help you detect cancer in the early stages when it is the most treatable.
The three main types of screening tests are physical exams and self-exams, imaging scans such as mammograms and ultrasounds, and laboratory tests that measure proteins or genes in your blood.
Screening tests are not perfect: they may find something that looks like cancer but isn’t actually cancer (a false positive) or miss a small amount of cancer (a false negative).
If you have been diagnosed with prostate or breast cancer and are considering treatment options, talk to your doctor about which treatments will best fit your needs.
Early detection saves lives because it:
- Allows for more effective treatment options
- Reduces the cost of treatment
- Saves time
I hope you like the blog post about cancer and importance of early detection!