It is, perhaps, the most feared disease due to its high incidence and what it implies. Cancer is a life-threatening disease that, in some cases, its treatment requires undergoing very invasive therapies for the body.
And it is a disease that represents the second cause of death worldwide, because, despite the fact that there are treatments to solve the pathology, cancer still has no cure. An estimated 18 million new cases are diagnosed each year.
This means that 1 in 3 women and 2 in 3 men will develop cancer in their lifetime. But it must be clear that not all cancers are the same. Not all are equally aggressive, nor do they have the same incidence, nor do all people run the same risk of suffering from them.
Therefore, and with the aim of solving some of the most common doubts about this disease, in today’s article we will answer the questions that we most frequently ask ourselves about cancer .
Cancer Questions and Answers
Next we will answer questions about the nature, causes of its appearance, risk factors, severity, available treatments and everything related to cancer. In this way, we will be more clear about what this disease is, avoiding the myths , hoaxes and false news that spread through the Internet.
- We recommend you read: “The 22 most common myths about cancer, debunked”
1. What is cancer?
Cancer is a disease in which, due to genetic and / or environmental causes, the cells of some tissue or organ in our body lose the ability to control their replication. And is that due to mutations, the mechanisms to regulate the cycles of division are lost, so that cells grow uncontrollably. Thus, a mass of cells is formed that, if it endangers the life of the person, is called cancer.
2. Are cancer and tumor synonymous?
No. All cancers are tumors, but not all tumors are cancers. A tumor is an abnormal growth of cells, something that occurs more or less frequently in our body. What happens is that normally this mass of cells does not cause damage, it can be eliminated by our immune system without major complications and / or there is no risk of it expanding. In this case, we speak of a benign tumor. If, on the contrary, this abnormal cell growth does compromise the health of the person, we are dealing with a malignant tumor or cancer, something less common.
3. Are all cancers equally deadly?
No. It will depend on the type of cancer, because depending on the organ or tissue damaged, the severity will be greater or lesser. Each cancer has a different fatality rate. For example, lung cancer is the most lethal, with a mortality rate of more than 60%. On the other hand, the thyroid has a lethality of “only” 0.3%. Therefore, each cancer should be consulted individually.
4. What does it mean that a cancer has metastasized?
Metastasis is a process by which cancer is no longer located in a specific organ or tissue of the body, that is, it has spread to other regions of the body. At this point, the prognosis is worse, as it is more difficult for the treatments to be successful. When cancer is diagnosed before metastasis, the chances of survival are much higher.
5. Is chemotherapy always necessary?
No. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are used when it is not possible to surgically remove the malignant tumor, either because it has metastasized or because its location (or size) would pose risks to the health of the person. But you don’t always have to resort to these therapies.
6. Can my relatives inherit cancer?
No. Do not confuse “genetic” with “hereditary.” Cancer is a disease of genetic origin in the sense that it arises from problems in the DNA of our cells, but that does not mean that we get “wrong” genes from our parents. Most cancers arise from genetic alterations acquired throughout life. In fact, it is estimated that in only 5% of cancers the hereditary factor comes into play. Therefore, having a family member have cancer is a risk factor, but not a conviction.
7. Is cancer contagious?
No. Cancer is not caused by the infection of any pathogen, therefore it is absolutely impossible for it to spread. No type of cancer can be spread by person-to-person contact.
8. Does sleeping with the mobile nearby cause cancer?
No. There is, at the moment, no scientific evidence to affirm it. Cell phones do not emit ionizing radiation (as X-rays do), but rather they release very low-energy radiation that is not enough to increase the risk of cancer.
- We recommend reading: “Is it dangerous to sleep with your mobile near the bed?”
9. What are the most common cancers?
There are more than 200 types of cancer. Anyway, more than 75% of those diagnosed belong to the 20 most common. Some of them, in order, are: the lung, the breast, the colorectal, the prostate and the skin.
- To learn more: “The 20 most common types of cancer: causes, symptoms and treatment”
10. Can surgery be enough to treat it?
On many occasions, yes. Surgical removal of the tumor may be enough to quickly cure the cancer. Still, some chemotherapy or radiation therapy sessions are often needed to shrink the cancer before surgery is done.
11. When do cancer symptoms appear?
Cancer is a chronic disease, so symptoms appear gradually, taking even years to become visible. However, these will depend entirely on the cancer in question. In addition, it must be taken into account that they appear slowly and that, at first, they are not serious at all. For example, cervical cancer can show signs that are limited to abnormal vaginal bleeding during menstrual periods. Or prostate cancer, which at first only manifests itself with a reduction in the flow of urine during urination.
12. Does chemotherapy kill all the cells in my body?
No. Chemotherapy kills rapidly growing cells, which, in addition to cancerous ones, it is true that they are some of a healthy body. But not all. From our body, it “kills” the hair producers and those of the oral and intestinal epithelium. This explains that people who undergo it lose their hair and suffer from the appearance of sores in the digestive system, respectively.
13. Does red meat cause cancer?
No. There has been (and still is) a lot of controversy about it, as the WHO classified it as “possibly carcinogenic”. But they did not do it because they believed there was a real risk, but simply because it was under study, just as it happens with any other type of product. When they wanted to clarify, it was too late. However, there is still no scientific evidence to show that it increases the risk of cancer. On the other hand, in the case of processed meat, it is known that its excessive consumption is linked to a greater risk of suffering it.
- We recommend you read: “Is red meat carcinogenic?”
14. If I quit smoking, do I lose my risk of lung cancer?
Yes. Not abruptly, but the risk is progressively lost. It greatly depends on how long you have been smoking and how many cigarettes you had per day. But for an average smoker who has quit, after 10 years from the last cigarette, the risk of lung cancer is cut in half. And as time goes by, the risk becomes less and less, and it can become relatively similar to that of someone who has never smoked. Although, we repeat, this depends a lot on the situation of each one.
15. Does cancer hurt?
Only a small percentage of cancers manifest with pain, as very specific conditions have to be met both in terms of size and location of the tumor. Most of the time cancer does not hurt, so you have to be attentive to your own symptoms.
16. Can cancer be prevented?
Absolutely yes. It is true that the genetic factor plays an important role, so it is not always possible, no matter how much lifestyle is watched, it is possible to prevent cancer from appearing. In any case, it is estimated that more than 50% of diagnosed cases could have been prevented from following healthy habits: eating healthy, playing sports, sleeping well, not smoking, controlling body weight, not overindulging with alcohol …
17. Can I die of fulminant cancer?
No. As we have said, cancer is a chronic disease, not an acute one. Any type of cancer goes through a slow and progressive development, so that, although sometimes they are difficult to detect, it goes through mild symptoms that lead to more serious ones until, ultimately, the body does not resist plus. Therefore, it is important to know what the first manifestations are. The earlier it is detected, the more likely the treatment will be successful.
18. What is the cancer survival rate?
Again, each cancer has its own survival rate. This will depend on the type, its location, the size, whether it has metastasized or not and the person’s own state of health, so it is difficult to obtain universal data. Anyway, as an example, colon cancer, if it has not metastasized, has a 90% survival rate. If, on the contrary, it has spread, survival is reduced to 14%.
19. Can traumatic injuries cause cancer?
No. Cuts, bumps, accidents and other types of trauma, regardless of severity or location, do not cause cancer. Cancer is only caused by prolonged exposure to carcinogens: sunlight, tobacco, alcohol, radon, etc., together with, obviously, the genetic predisposing factor of each person.
20. How is cancer diagnosed?
When, based on symptoms and medical history, a doctor suspects that the person may have cancer, a diagnosis must be made that will depend on the cancer that he suspects he may have. Blood tests, biopsies, X-rays, etc., are usually the most used ways to detect a malignant tumor.
21. What side effects do the treatments have?
Each treatment causes different side effects. You have to understand that they are aggressive therapies, because there is no better way to eliminate cancer. Therefore, depending also to a large extent on the state of health of the affected, the side effects will range from mild to more severe. Anemia, increased risk of infections, hair loss, mouth sores, extreme weakness and fatigue, bleeding or bruising from minor trauma… In this case, however, the remedy is still better than the disease.
22. Can cancer be cured?
It depends on how you look at it, yes. But it must be borne in mind that “cure” is not the same as “treat”. Most cancers can be considered curable in the sense that the person responds well to treatment and is able to overcome the disease, but this does not meet the exact definition of “cure.” And it is that a person who has been treated for cancer and has overcome it, is still at risk of it reappearing.
When we have treatments and therapies that ensure that the risk of getting sick again is like that of a person who has never had cancer, at that moment we can say that cancer can be cured. Until then, fortunately we have ways that survival is very high.