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Cancer: All You need to know

Franklin Izuchukwu
By Franklin Izuchukwu
A health working at the National Public Health Reference Laboratory in Gaduwa, Abuja.


A cell is the basic unit of the body tissue and system; it constitutes the basic functionality of the human or animal body. It is therefore known that whatever normal or abnormal process in the body begins within the cell structure. 

The animal body is comprised of cells which combines to form a tissue, aggregates of these tissues forms an organ which works together to make a complete system.

For example, the respiratory system of a human is made up of organ structures like lungs, the nose, trachea bronchioles etc. 

Usually, cells age and grow continually. The old cells are replaced by new cells; this activity occurs every millisecond but in a controlled manner.

The basis of the spread or origin of Cancer is based on the body’s inability to develop and replace old cells with new cells in a controllable manner. 

When there is a genetic change in a particular cell, it might lead to an uncontrollable division of cells. The cell divides uncontrollably to form an aggregate of cells called a tumour. Tumours may be cancerous or benign.

Some types of Cancer do not form a tumour. They include leukaemia, some types of lymphoma and myeloma.

Cancerous cells divide and invade other cells, while benign tumours grow without invading other cells. 

What is cancer?

Cancer is referred to as a type of disease characterised by abnormal cells that grow and divide uncontrollably and can invade other cells. Cancer can spread throughout the body of a victim.

Cancer is the second- leading cause of death in the world though there has been improvement therapeutically and the invention of new types of equipment used in combating the disease.

The breakthrough in cancer diagnosis is early detection which is helpful in quick recovery during treatment.

How cancer spreads to other parts of the body

Cancer is spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream and lymphatic system. As the cancer tumour grows, it is carried to other parts of the body where it continues its growth - this is called metastasis.

The primary route of cancer spread is through the lymphatic system; the lymphatic system is tiny bean-shaped organs that aids in the fight against infection. It is located in other body parts like the neck, groin axilla etc.

Cancer cells are also spread to other parts of the body using the bloodstream. The bloodstream carries the cancer cells from the primary sites to other secondary sites like the lungs or abdomen.

It is important to note that when cancer cells spread to these secondary sites, it still maintains its origins name, for example, breast cancer that has spread or metastasised to the lung is called metastatic breast cancer, not lung cancer.

Types of cancer

There are four main types of Cancer; they are divided based on its origin.

  1. Carcinoma: they begin on the skin that covers internal organs or glands, examples are breast cancer, prostate cancer and lung cancer.
  2. Sarcomas: They begin on tissues that connect or support the body like nerves, bone, fat, blood vessels, tendons etc.
  3. Leukaemia: they begin on blood cells. It occurs when blood cells divide and grow uncontrollably.
  4. Lymphoma: When Cancer affects the network of lymph nodes in the body, it is called lymphoma.

Cancer Diagnosis

Cancer diagnosis begins when a patient visits a doctor complaining of unusual symptoms which I will discuss in a bit. 

The doctor usually will inquire about the patient’s medical history the order various tests to know the cause of the symptoms.

Many people that have cancer show no signs or symptoms; thus; diagnosis of cancer is made in the cause of other examinations.

A biopsy may be the only definitive diagnosis for most cases of cancer. A biopsy is done by removing a small amount of tissue and studied for diagnosis.

The biopsy will show details about the cell that is proliferating, genetic abnormalities and other characteristics. It will help in cancer treatment decisions and prognosis.

A radiograph showing a mass within the left lung area. The only definitive diagnosis of cancer is by Biopsy.

Symptoms of cancer

Signs and symptoms of cancer depend on the part of the body in question.

Some general signs and symptoms associated with, but not specific to, cancer, include:

  • Fatigue
  • Lump or area of thickening that can be felt under the skin
  • Weight changes, including unintended loss or gain
  • Skin changes, such as yellowing, darkening or redness of the skin, sores that won't heal, or changes to existing moles
  • Changes in bowel or bladder habits
  • Persistent cough or trouble breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hoarseness
  • Persistent indigestion or discomfort after eating
  • Persistent, unexplained muscle or joint pain
  • Persistent, unexplained fevers or night sweats
  • Unexplained bleeding or bruising

Risk factors or predispositions to cancer

There are no definite causes of cancer, but doctors have come up with risk factors they believe increases the risk of Cancer in individuals. Please note that the majority of people that have Cancer have proven not to possess any of the risks.

Your age

Cancer does not develop overnight. This is why it is diagnosed more in adults than in children. The disease can occur at any age.

Your habits

Certain lifestyle choices are known to increase your risk of Cancer. Smoking, drinking more than one alcoholic drink a day (for women of all ages and men older than age 65) or two drinks a day (for men age 65 and younger), excessive exposure to the sun or frequent blistering sunburns, being obese, and having unsafe sex can contribute to cancer.

You can change these habits to lower your risk of Cancer — though some habits are easier to change than others.

Your family history

A few forms of cancers are inheritable. If one or more of your family relatives have been victims of Cancer, then it is possible that certain mutation traits may be passed from one generation to another..

You can go for genetic testing to see whether you have inherited mutations that might increase your risk of certain cancers. It is worth to note that you might inherit this gene and still don't get Cancer.

Your health conditions

Some chronic health conditions, such as ulcerative colitis, can markedly increase your risk of developing certain cancers. Talk to your doctor about your risk.

Your environment

The environment around you may contain harmful chemicals that can increase your risk of Cancer. Even if you don't smoke, you might inhale secondhand smoke if you go where people are smoking or if you live with someone who smokes.

Chemicals in your home or workplace, such as asbestos and benzene, also are associated with an increased risk of cancer.

Prevention of cancer

There's no certain way to prevent cancer. But doctors have identified several ways of reducing your cancer risk, such as:

  • Stop smoking. If you smoke, quit. If you don't smoke, don't start. Smoking is linked to several types of cancer — not just lung cancer. Stopping now will reduce your risk of cancer in the future.
  • Avoid excessive sun exposure. Harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun can increase your risk of skin cancer.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Choose a diet rich in fruits and vegetables: select whole grains and lean proteins.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Regular exercise for weight loss reduces your risk of developing cancer.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation, if you choose to drink. If you must drink alcohol, then you must drink in moderation, especially adults who are 65years or older.
  • Schedule cancer screening exams. Consult your doctor to know the type of screening test that is best for you based on your risk factors.
  • Ask your doctor about immunizations. Certain viruses increase your risk of cancer. Vaccinations may help prevent those viruses, including hepatitis B, which increases the risk of liver cancer, and human papillomavirus (HPV), which increases the risk of cervical cancer and other cancers. Ask your doctor whether immunization against these viruses is appropriate for you.


There is no definite cure for cancer, but many treatment procedures have shown 100% recovery in some patients. The only definite therapeutics is personally trying to reduce your risk factors.

Modalities like radiotherapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, laser therapy and surgery have helped in the fight against this dreaded disease.

Many studies are currently ongoing in this fight.