What is cancer exactly? Where did it start? How can you help?
Few individuals are lucky enough to not be negatively impacted in one way or another by cancer. Whether you’ve participated in a local fundraiser in support of a neighbor with a recent diagnosis, or helped a family member through their cancer struggle, or you are a survivor yourself, cancer has touched most of our lives.
The statistics on cancer are unmatchable and are hard to believe. Think of it this way: the earth has 7.594 billion individuals on it. How many people are impacted by cancer? Approximately 39.5% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetimes. That is a lot of life-changing diagnoses.
Let’s take advantage of World Cancer Day by delving into all things cancer — be sure to stay until the end where many helpful resources are provided.
What is Cancer?
Cancer is a common disease that is caused by an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in a particular part of the body. Many times, cancer is capable of spreading throughout your body, which is why it is preferable to catch it early on. In some unfortunate cases, by the time the cancer is discovered in an individual’s tissue, it is too late.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death (behind heart failure) in the United States. An average of 600,000 people die of cancer each year.
According to Cancer.org the earliest depictions of cancer’s existence date all the way back to 3000 B.C. in Egypt. The Edwin Smith Papyrus (an excerpt from an ancient Egyptian medical text) wrote about an incurable disease that we now recognize as breast cancer.
How did the term “cancer” come into use? The Greek physician Hippocrates, also known as the “Father of Medicine,” coined the terms carcinos or carcinoma for the common, incurable disease. If you look these words up in Greek, they translate to the word crab. Many say Hippocrates chose this word because of the finger-like spread of the disease, resembling the shape of a crab. The Roman physician Celsus translated the Greek terms into cancer, the Latin word for crab.
Types of Cancer
Cancer is extremely common because there are many different kinds of cancer. By “many,” we mean over 100. That’s right, there are over 100 different types of cancer that can impact individuals worldwide. To put it simply, each cancer is usually named after the organ and/or tissue it is originally found in or formed in. For example, if an oncologist discovers cancer in the cells of your brain, then you will be diagnosed with brain cancer.
Here is a list of common types of cancers that are found in specific types of cells:
Carcinoma: this is the most common type of cancer and is formed by epithelial cells.
Sarcoma: cancers that form in bone and soft tissues (muscle, blood vessels, etc.)
Leukemia: cancers that begin in the blood-forming tissue of the bone marrow.
Lymphoma: cancer that begins in T cells or B cells (lymphocytes).
Melanoma: cancer that begins in cells that make melanin (melanocytes) on the skin.
To look up a specific type of cancer’s name in a particular location in the body, check out the NCI website here. Also, this cancer list from A to Z and is helpful when you know the name but are unsure where the location is.
What to Say to a Loved One
Getting a diagnosis back from your primary physician is never easy, and it is especially difficult when you spot the word “cancer.” No matter the diagnosis, try to remain calm for yourself or for your loved one receiving this life-changing news. If it’s you, try to find a support group, whether that be through your friends and family, or through a local organization.
If it’s your loved one, remind them that they aren’t alone and that you will be on this journey with them. Provide useful resources as needed, or just be a shoulder to cry on or ears to listen. Hospitality Health ER wrote a blog about “Talking to a Loved One on Their Declining Health” — check it out here for more tips.
How You Can Help
Because cancer is so common, there are many different worldwide or local organizations with events you can attend, donations you can give, or support you can provide. Here’s what you can do:
Find your local Red Cross blood drive.
Find a local blood bank accepting donations.
Requirements for giving blood include being at least 16 or 17 years old, weighing at least 110 pounds, and additional, more specific requirements that you can find here.
Donate bone marrow
Register with Be The Match to see if you could be a good match.
Find your local center accepting bone marrow donations by calling 1-800-MARROW2.
The following organizations are accepting monetary donations:
The American Cancer Association
The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society
St. Judes Children’s Research Hospital
Donate your time
Get involved with World Cancer Day.
Get involved with ABCD Breast Cancer.
Find local events and volunteer opportunities near you.
Along with getting involved globally, locally, or — more commonly nowadays — virtually, you can take part in World Cancer Day by sharing this article or any information you’ve learned that might interest another individual.
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