Cancer: the Costs, Causes, and Cures

Topics: Cancer, Oncology, Neoplasm Pages: 11 (2924 words) Published: October 8, 1999
Cancer: The Costs, Causes, and Cures

Cancer is a major killer of people all around the globe. We do not have a definite cure, but the amount of research done on this one disease costs on the average of $1.2 billion dollars annually, and $20 billion annually in care of cancer patients.

What is Cancer?

Cancer is a broad ranging term that is used by many people, including medical professionals such as doctors. Cancer, in its most fatal and aggressive form, is of a larger class of diseases known as neoplasms. There are two forms of a neoplasm: benign or malignant. A benign neoplasm is encapsulated, or surrounded, so that it's growth is restricted, whereas a malignant neoplasm is not closed in. Malignant tumors grow much more quickly than benign forms and spread into the surrounding normal tissue, and virtually destroy it, (Grolier Electronic Encyclopedia, Cancer).

The question is, what exactly is cancer? Cancer, is the break down and mutation of the cells of the body, when the DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid) sequences in those molecules are disrupted and errors form in the structures, (Grolier, Genetic Code). This mutation spreads through surrounding tissue until it disrupts major systems in the body (such as respiratory, digestive and waste management) cause that system to fail.

What causes Cancer to become active?

Since it is believed that almost all people have some type of cancer in their body, (although benign), any person that comes in contact with a carcinogen, (any cancer-causing agent), will cause these benign cells to become malignant.

It is when the cells become malignant, that cancer actually occurs. Cancer, in this context, can be caused by many different agents; chemical, biological or physical.

Chemical Agents

Chemicals that can cause a benign cell to become active include things such as complex hydrocarbons, aromatic amines, certain metals, drugs, hormones, and naturally occurring chemicals in plants and molds. Hydrocarbons and nitrosamines can be found in cigarette smoke and may contribute to the condition called "lung cancer". Other chemicals that seem to cause incidents of "bladder cancer", such as 2-naphthylamine, were used in the dye industry for dyeing cloth, but when a number of cases of cancer turned up, its use was discontinued. Vinyl Chloride, a chemical gas, has also appeared, seeming to cause "liver cancer" ,(Grolier, Cancer)

Drugs, such as some cancer-treating alkylating agents, are also carcinogens. These agents are used to break the DNA strands in the cells, thereby killing the cells, but it also effects the cells surrounding the tumor, actually making them malignant. When these chemicals are used to treat cancer in this way, they must in exact proportions for each person and if the dosage is incorrect, the chemical will create a cancerous effect. Estrogens, a group of female hormones, usually administered to women after menopause seem to cause an increased incidence of cancer of the uterus. This has been alleviated today by administering estrogen in combination with progesterone. Certain salts, that contain arsenic, are suspected to casually relate to cancer of the skin and liver, (Grolier, Cancer).

The suggestion that cancer is caused by an alteration of DNA within the benign cell, was proposed by James and Elizabeth Miller in the 1960s, who demonstrated that chemical carcinogens must be metabolized and broken down so that they may interact with the DNA of the cells in question, directly, (Grolier, Cancer).

Biological Agents

Our own bodies, in conjunction with parasites found in different parts of the world, have been related to the causes of many types of cancer. Some of the most clearly established biological agents are the oncogenic (cancer-causing) viruses that commonly cause the formation of neoplasms in lower animals have been linked to some human cancers, and at least one has been definitely proven to cause cancer of the blood (leukemia), (Grolier,...

References: Tetzeli, R. (1990). Can Power Lines Give You Cancer? FORTLINE Magazine, 49, 80-
Pitot, H.C. M.D. et al. (1992) Cancer. Grolier Electronic Encyclopedia,1992 ed.
Clarke, D. & Dartford, M. ( 1992). Cancer Treatment. How It Works: The New
Drill, V.A. et al (1991) Drugs and Drug Action - Chemotherapy. Encyclopedia
Macropedia, 553-560
American Cancer Society et al (1992) Cancer
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