MadSci Network: Cell Biology

Re: What is it about a cancer that causes all the associated health problems?

Date: Tue Jun 13 16:34:12 2000
Posted By: Gabriel Harris, Grad student, Food Science and Technology, The Ohio State University
Area of science: Cell Biology
ID: 960755831.Cb


There are several basic reasons why tumors, and especially cancerous 
tumors, can cause problems.  One is by crowding out healthy tissue.  
Another is by invading healthy tissue.  A third is that as cancers grow, 
they act as parasites and take away what the body needs to survive.  Let 
me explain each of these ideas in a little more detail, but first let me 
define some important terms.

Tumors are abnormal growths in the body.  They result when one type of 
tissue (skin, liver, lung, whatever) stops performing its regular function 
and begins to grow, usually usually at a faster pace than the rest of the 
tissue around it.  Tumors may or may not be cancerous.  Non-cancerous 
tumors are referred to as "benign".

Cancers are also abnormal growths, but they differ from benign tumors by 
their ability to invade other tissue.  For example, prostate cancer can 
spread to bone and breast cancer can spread to the lymph nodes.  This 
spreading is called "metastasis".

O.K., as I said, cancer can crowd out healthy tissue.  A good example is 
brain cancer.  If a tumor becomes large enough, it can put pressure on the 
brain and cause headaches, dizziness, changes in personality, etc.  The 
healthy brain tissue may begin to die because of this pressure, so that 
this could be fatal.

When cancer metastasizes, it can interfere with the function of the organ 
to which it spreads.  This is because it kills normal tissue as it grows. 
If cancer spreads to lungs, for instance, it can inhibit a persons ability 
to breathe.

Finally, cancer can take away valuable nutrients from the body.  A person 
will begin to burn more calories when they have cancer because cancer is a 
growing thing.  This is partly responsible for the weight loss people 
often experience with cancer.  The cancer itself may also produce hormones 
that causes the victim to lose muscle and fat tissue.  The extreme weight 
loss caused by the disease is called "cachexia".  Cancer may also cause 
excessive bleeding, further weakening the person.

To summarize, cancer has negative effects because it presses on and 
invades normal tissue and because it causes the body to use up its much 
needed resources.

Oh yes, almost forgot...many of the treatments for cancer also cause 
problems including loss of appetite and a lack of energy.

I hope that this helps.



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