“Necessity is the mother of invention”. Many of you probably heard this quote quite often, but I found it really applicable in my situation. Like I already mentioned, my family was faced with a problem and in order to take the best course of action, we needed to gather the necessary information. And my “invention” was the knowledge and willingness to face the music alongside with my dad and the rest of our family.
Know your enemy
Let’s start by simply clarifying what cancer really is. Many of you probably have a much distorted image of what cancer is and how it actually harms your body. The best way to explain is by making it simple.
Apart from just a couple of cell types (mostly neurons and some reproductive cells), your entire body is in the constant process of dying and regeneration. For example, your skin cells have a life span of around 10-30 days. In fact, most of the dust particles found in your home are actually dead skin cells. Pretty weird, right?
Take a quick look at the average time needed for cells to get replaced:
- Red blood cells – 4 months
- Liver hepatocyte cells – 6-12 months
- Lung alveoli cells – 8 days
- Tongue taste buds – 10 days
Right now you might start to wonder what the hell is really going on in your body. The things are really simple. Once an old cell dies, a copy of it gets created. Here is the interesting part: how the hell does the body know what type of cell needs to be created and where? Well, that’s where DNA and genes come in. Inside every one of your cells, there is a blueprint of your entire body. It is a set of instructions that every cell reads when it gets replicated and it determines its function.
So, it is basically a copying job of massive proportions. And in that process lies the key for every type of cancer on the planet. Mistakes in this copying process happen all the time. With millions upon millions of copying processes happening at any given moment, it is bound for some of the cells to come out sort of crooked.
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” – Albert Einstein
So here it is, in the simplest way possible: Cancer is a group of cells doing something they are not supposed to be doing.
Let’s give an example by using a type that strikes way too often these days: stomach cancer.
Like we already mentioned, intestinal cells don’t live long, so you can assume how much copying is needed to replace them. Mistakes happen and by “random chance” – this subject will be discussed later – you end up with a couple of thousands of cells that were the result of these copying mistakes. 99.999% of the times, these cells die off quickly as they are not functioning properly and the mistakes get corrected. Either it is the immune system that realizes these cells got crooked, or it is any of the millions of other factors, but the job gets done. In that regards, you can even go to say that each and every person on the planet has cancerous cells in their body, they just don’t get the chance to harm us.
But, every now and then, these cells survive and multiply (like the original cell was supposed to) and they now pass on the wrong information. And in there lies the problem. Normally, your immune system is pretty darn efficient when it comes taking care of threats that impact your well-being. But when it comes to cancer, the immune system has difficulties recognizing that these cells are harmful. And how it could, when it’s your own cells that are at the core of every cancer?
Armed with this basic understanding, you can get the sense of somewhat overly negative stigma that this condition is known for. Most of the time, the word itself is taken for granted and many people actually discuss it without ever completely understanding the underlying facts. You can also make a simple deduction as to why a universal cure for the cancer is yet to be discovered. Since almost every cancer is different and it is highly specific (to the person’s genetic code and all the other factors), there is a very likely chance that a single drug that can treat all types of cancer will never be developed. It is just too much ground to cover and many scientists actually believe (and from my personal experience I have to agree) that a tailored approach to each patient has far greater chances of being successful than a broad spectrum treatment. And there is also a huge difference between benign and malignant tumors and that aspect deserves its separate segment. I’ll cover this in the next chapter. Hopefully, you are now armed with an understanding of the subject and you are ready to understand the causes and effects of cancer.
Until the next time, stay well.