Cancer prevention, screening, and treatment are three important steps in helping to beat back this devastating condition. We will discuss them, as well as the common risk factors for cancer, in this lesson.
The word 'cancer' is pretty scary, as it should be. To me it encompasses this feeling of utter devastation, a lack of control, and an inevitably bad ending. The good news is that none of those is necessarily true. With proper control for risk factors, screening for cancer, and treatment of it, cancer does not have to be as devastating or uncontrollable as the word itself often implies.
Cancer Risk Factors and Prevention
The first step anyone can take to prevent or reduce the risk of cancer is by looking out for cancer risk factors and avoiding them if at all possible. A risk factor is anything that increases the chance of disease. Let's review some of them:
The sun, tanning beds, and radiation - they fry your organs, like the skin, and some types of radiation can even fry your internal organs! You know how egg whites transform into this completely different-looking and feeling thing after you fry them in a pan? Well, cells on your body that are fried by the sun can transform into completely different-looking things called cancer cells. So stay away from the sun!
Another risk factor is viruses. Viruses are tiny little infectious organisms. Some give you the flu and others give you cancer. I remember I once got this annoying computer virus that caused my internal browser's windows to multiply out of control. Viruses can also cause your cells to multiply out of control, a defining characteristic of cancer itself. Many of the real-world viruses that cause or predispose you to cancer have vaccines you can get for them; they're like an antivirus program, but for your body.
Further risk factors include drugs and chemicals. Everything from alcohol to tobacco smoke to asbestos can lead to cancer. Drugs cause biochemical reactions in your body that can create different cancers. Remember in school, when you mixed vinegar and baking soda to make a chemical reaction that mimicked a little volcano? In our body, mixing a chemical with a normal cell might lead to an explosive reaction that creates an abnormal cell, a cancer cell. Therefore, avoid smoking, stay away from harmful chemicals, and don't drink in excess to help prevent cancer.
Additionally and rightfully, we also have to worry about genetics. Did you ever get a software program that just didn't seem to run right? It's because the code that made the program was messed up, causing all sorts of errors and glitches. If you're born with 'bad' genes, which are things that encode you to be who you are, they can also cause errors and glitches that predispose to cancer formation, except there are no refunds on your genes! And while you can't actually prevent these genes, you can control all of the stuff above to minimize your chances of cancer development even if you have genes that predispose to cancer.
There are plenty of other risk factors for cancer, including obesity, food, and hormones; even gender is a risk factor for cancer. As an obvious example, breast cancer is more likely to occur in women than in men. But we need to move on from discussing preventative strategies and risk factors to how to screen for and treat cancer.
Whether it's because you have genes that may predispose you to cancer, or because you don't avoid stuff like the sun, or you are of a particular group predisposed to a certain cancer, you can screen for cancer in order to try to catch its onset a bit early. Doing so makes it much more likely you will beat cancer!
Cancer screening is a term that defines tests, procedures, and techniques designed to detect cancer early on, before the onset of symptoms. Screening for cancer is an important routine procedure for many people. Let's examine some components of cancer screening:
The first one is a physical exam. After you microwave something for a long time you first gently touch it with your hands to examine it for serious, burn-causing heat before picking it up. We can also use our hands to examine ourselves for serious problems before they burn us! Whether you perform it yourself or a doctor does it for you, it's an important step. Women should use their hands to feel for any unusual lumps in their breasts. Men should use their hands to examine their testicles for any lumps too. Both are recommended for adults of all ages once a month.
Next, we have imaging tests, like mammograms. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast used to diagnose and screen for cancer. People sometimes take pictures and spot odd things in them, like those always-fuzzy images of Bigfoot. Well, imaging tests help us spot odd-looking things that may be a sign of cancer.
Other screening strategies include blood and genetic tests. Such tests can reveal potential genes that may lead to cancer in the case of the latter or signs of a cancer causing changes to internal organs in the case of the former. These tests are like running diagnostics on your computer to see if there's something wrong like a viral infection, a hardware problem, and whatnot.
If a screening test reveals a problem, then treatment is indicated to help fight off the cancer and even beat it completely. The main treatment strategies are:
- Surgery: We literally remove the lump out of the body or remove the body part that contains the cancer, like a breast.
- Radiation therapy: Remember that I said radiation can cause cancer? We can also use radiation to fry the cancer cells with specialized equipment.
- Chemotherapy is another option: Just like I said chemicals can cause cancer, we can use specialized chemicals to kill cancer cells.
So, in the case of the last two, we're using cancer's own weapons against them, in a manner of speaking!
There was quite a lot to learn here and it probably bears a little repeating. Okay, then. First we looked at risk factors for cancer. A risk factor is anything that increases the chance of disease. These risk factors included the sun, tanning beds, and radiation, viruses, drugs and chemicals, genetics, gender, obesity, food, and hormones.
Next, we moved on to cancer screening strategies. Cancer screening is a term that defines tests, procedures, and techniques designed to detect cancer early on, before the onset of symptoms. Such strategies include a physical exam; imaging tests, like mammograms (a mammogram, by the way, is an X-ray of the breast used to diagnose and screen for cancer); and blood and genetic tests. Finally, we discussed the three major treatment options for cancer: surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
Once you are finished with this lesson, you should be able to:
- List some factors that can lead to a higher risk for cancer
- Explain how cancer develops in the body
- Describe ways to screen for cancer
- Recall some of the ways cancer can be treated