Explaining Cancer: How Do Cancer Cells Work?
Every year, New Zealand records approximately 9,000 deaths from cancer. Lung cancer makes up most of these numbers. That’s why specialists in New Zealand’s Canopy Cancer Care, such as Dr Laird Cameron, a medical oncologist focusing on lung cancer, have advocated helping lung cancer patients receive the treatment and care they need.
In this article, we’ll discuss the basic definition of cancer as a disease. We’ll also explore how it grows and spreads to different body parts.
What is Cancer?
Cancer is a condition caused by the uncontrollable growth and spread of cells in the body. It can develop anywhere. Solid tumour cancers, for example, can affect organs and tissues, such as the prostate and colorectal areas. Hematologic cancers, on the other hand, develop in the blood cells. Examples of blood cancers are lymphoma, leukaemia, and multiple myeloma.
As different types of cancers can affect the body, medical practitioners that deal with cancer often have one or more specialisations. Dr Abbey Wrigley, for instance, is one of NZ’s leading oncologists whose practice centres on breast, lung, and gastrointestinal malignancies. She is part of a team of oncologists in NZ, specialising in treating solid tumours and hematologic cancers.
How Do Cancer Cells Grow and Spread?
Cancer cells start as old cells. Instead of dying, these ageing cells grow and form into abnormal cells. The sections below explain how these cells form, grow, and spread.
How does cancer grow?
Since abnormal cells are products of faulty gene mutations, cancer cells do not follow the basic cell life cycle. Instead of dying, they divide out of control and ignore the body’s signals to stop. Some of them don’t reach proper maturity. This abnormal and rapid cell division forms a tumour. The tumour then sucks all the nutrients and oxygen from nearby blood vessels. The bigger it grows, the greater it demands sustenance.
Cancer cells send signals to produce new blood vessels that will deliver oxygen and nutrients to the tumour, sustaining its growth. This process is known as angiogenesis. The process allows cancer cells to enter the bloodstream and access other body parts.
How does cancer spread?
As the tumour grows, the cancer cells also spread to nearby tissues. Aside from pushing surrounding structures, these cells produce enzymes that corrupt and break down healthy tissues and cells. Cancers that spread locally are called invasive cancers.
On the other hand, some cancers spread away from where they first developed. When the cancer cells break away and travel through the blood or lymphatic system, they can metastasise or transfer to a secondary site.
How and where the cancer spreads enables doctors to predict how it will grow. The same information also aids in identifying staging systems and how to approach them.
The cancer staging and identification system also help patients receive tailormade medical guidance from oncologists. Custom treatments and lifestyle advice for cancer patients are essential, especially since each type and stage of cancer demands specific approaches.