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Cancer is the generic name used for more than 200 types of disease variation. This group of malignant neoplasms is the second leading cause of death in the world, after cardiovascular disease. According to estimates by the National Cancer Institute (INCA), by 2025, more than 700,000 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in Brazil.
How cancer arises: lack of control in cell reproduction
The term neoplasm refers to the abnormal growth, or out of control, of body cells that gives rise to a tumor, which can be benign or malignant. The difference is that malignant tumors grow rapidly and disorderly and are made up of cells with characteristics that are different from those found in normal tissue.
In some cases, cells can detach from the original tumor and spread to other parts of the body, in a process known as metastasis, a sign that the disease has spread throughout the body. With the exception of malignant skin neoplasms that are not melanoma, breast, colon, lung and prostate cancer are among the most frequent.
What is behind the onset of cancer
We have millions of cells that are born, grow and die in a continuous and organized process of renewal that works like a clock. Cellular activity begins in the womb and is more accelerated in the first years of life, precisely to allow the organism to develop. In adulthood, cell renewal responds by repairing damage, replacing cells that have died or are worn out.
Over the years, however, this process becomes slower, which makes us more vulnerable to various diseases – cancer among them. That is why longevity is related to the increase in malignant neoplasms. To give you an idea, the average life expectancy of Brazilians is 77 years, according to the latest projection by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE). Two decades ago, the average was 70 years old.
The influence of genes and lifestyle on the onset of cancer
Heredity can be a triggering factor for the appearance of cancer and, although it is not decisive, it accounts for about 10% of cases. An unhealthy lifestyle also weighs heavily on this account – diets high in fat and red meat, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, smoking and alcohol consumption, for example, are risk factors for its emergence.
Cancer diagnosis and treatments
One in five people around the world will develop cancer in their lifetime and disease prevention is one of the biggest public health challenges in the world. The alert is from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an entity that is part of the World Health Organization (WHO).
Oncology, which is the medical specialty that studies neoplasms, has increasingly accurate diagnostic methods that are capable of detecting the disease in cases that a few years ago would have gone unnoticed.
Early detection, incidentally, is critical to success in the fight against cancer. The arsenal of treatments has also been evolving a lot and includes surgery to remove the tumor; local or systemic administration of drugs (in the case of chemotherapy, targeted therapies and hormone therapy, to name three examples); and the application of radiation in the affected areas. The therapeutic proposal, which may include a combination of treatments, varies according to each case.
Follow our series Understanding Cancer to learn more information about the different types of malignant neoplasms, their symptoms and treatments.
Technical Review: Luiz Antônio Vasconcelos, specialist in Internal Medicine, Internal Medicine, Cardiology and Echocardiography. Cardiologist and clinician at the emergency care units and clinical staff at Hospital Albert Einstein.