Cancer. It is a word that strikes fear into everyone. “We all live with cancer, whether it is present in ourselves or affects someone we love.” “Cancer is something that touches everyone’s lives.” These quotes by Dwayne Johnson and Ellen Pompeo respectively, accurately portray the reality of cancer. It affects everyone, not just those battling the disease in person.
What is cancer? While there are many different types with their own definitions, Webster’s dictionary defines the general term “cancer” as:
- a malignant tumor of potentially unlimited growth that expands locally by invasion and systemically by metastasis
- something evil or malignant that spreads destructively
While not a medical definition, the second definition perfectly describes the tortuous disease that is cancer, not just for the patient but everyone around them. It is evil, and like everything else evil in this world, should be eradicated. Scientists, doctors, and researchers around the world work around the clock trying to do just that. There is a well-known quote commonly attributed to Sir Francis Bacon, “ scientia potentia est” or “Knowledge is Power.” Dan Brown said, “We all fear what we do not understand.” Knowledge does give us power, and the more we know about something, the less scary it generally becomes. Hopefully as research continues, we will learn more, and it will make it much less scary.
The National Cancer Institute has provided several statistics they call, “The Burden of Cancer in the United States.” These statistics were compiled in 2017 and include:
- In 2018, an estimated 1,735,350 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States and 609,640 people will die from the disease.
- The most common cancers (listed in descending order according to estimated new cases in 2018) are breast cancer, lung and bronchus cancer, prostate cancer, colon and rectum cancer, melanoma of the skin, bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, kidney and renal pelvis cancer, endometrial cancer, leukemia, pancreatic cancer, thyroid cancer, and liver cancer.
- The number of new cases of cancer (cancer incidence) is 439.2 per 100,000 men and women per year (based on 2011–2015 cases).
- The number of cancer deaths (cancer mortality) is 163.5 per 100,000 men and women per year (based on 2011–2015 deaths).
- Cancer mortality is higher among men than women (196.8 per 100,000 men and 139.6 per 100,000 women). When comparing groups based on race/ethnicity and sex, cancer mortality is highest in African American men (239.9 per 100,000) and lowest in Asian/Pacific Islander women (88.3 per 100,000).
- In 2016, there were an estimated 15.5 million cancer survivors in the United States. The number of cancer survivors is expected to increase to 20.3 million by 2026.
- Approximately 38.4% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetimes (based on 2013–2015 data).
- In 2017, an estimated 15,270 children and adolescents ages 0 to 19 were diagnosed with cancer and 1,790 died of the disease.
- Estimated national expenditures for cancer care in the United States in 2017 were $147.3 billion. In future years, costs are likely to increase as the population ages and cancer prevalence increases. Costs are also likely to increase as new, and often expensive, treatments are adopted as standards of care.
Let’s take a look at some world-wide statistics, they are as follows:
- Cancer is among the leading causes of death worldwide. In 2012, there were 14.1 million new cases and 8.2 million cancer-related deaths worldwide.
- 57% of new cancer cases in 2012 occurred in less developed regions of the world that include Central America and parts of Africa and Asia; 65% of cancer deaths also occurred in these regions.
- The number of new cancer cases per year is expected to rise to 23.6 million by 2030.
As you can see from these statistics, not many people in this world are spared by the monster that is cancer. Chances are very high that you know at least one person who has been diagnosed with this terrible disease and have had to deal with the trauma that comes with that.
History of Cancer
Wikipedia states that the first recorded evidence of cancer comes from the Edwin Smith Papyrus written around 1,600 BCE. There is even discussion among historians that this scroll is actually a fragment of a writing from 2,500 BCE. This writing contains the earliest description of cancer, and treatment by cauterization of the breasts. Hippocrates, a greek physician living around 350 BCE, gave us the name Cancer based on the way that a cut tumor looked like a crab, or karkinos in Greek. He also coined the term carcinoma. He described several types of cancers, and various treatments involving diet, blood-letting, and laxatives.
The following chart is from Steven I. Hajdu’s article series, “Landmarks in the History of Cancer.” This chart shows the years that these advances in knowledge took place, in addition to showing a world event that happened at the same time for reference.
|Year||Medical History||Year||World History|
|3000 BC||Breast cancer described||3000 BC||Construction of Stonehenge|
|1500 BC||Herbal, mineral, and arsenic therapy, and soft tissue tumor described||1500 BC||Hebrews are in captivity in Egypt|
|375 BC||Cancer, carcinoma, scirrhus and condyloma introduced, skin, mouth, stomach and breast cancers, cautery||377 BC||Walls built around Rome|
|AD 50||Cancer surgery, breast cancer in axilla, lymphedema of the arm, cancer of the liver, colon and spleen, superficial and deep cancers, mixture of honey, egg white, and cabbage for inoperable cancer||AD 43||Roman invasion of Britain|
|79||Internal remedies before and after surgery, book on drugs published||68||Nero commits suicide|
|138||Nonulcerated and ulcerated uterine cancers||132||Seismograph developed in China|
|200||Sarcoma introduced, yellow and black bile, and humoral theories, first pharmacy in Rome||200||Afghanistan invaded by Huns|
|403||Necrosis in cancer identified||403||Visigoths invade Italy|
|562||Mastectomy, cancer of the cervix, vulva and anus described||571||Mohammed is born|
|690||Cancer of intestines described, cancer is painless||691||Dome of the Rock completed|
|932||Bile duct and intestinal obstructions||933||Algiers founded by Arabs|
|1037||Polypectomy by wire loop||1023||Paper money is printed in China|
|1080||Medical school in Salerno and Montpellier||1066||Norman conquest of England|
|1106||Bloodletting prior to surgery, no extensive surgery||1110||University of Paris founded|
|1162||Cancer of the esophagus, esophageal cannula for stricture and injection of nourishment, rectal obstruction, hysterectomy||1149||University is founded at Oxford|
|1163||Holistic healing||1163||Notre Dame of Paris built|
|1215||The Pope prohibits surgery||1215||Magna Carta|
|1296||Cancer is locally invasive, wide excision, nasopharyngeal cancer; livid tumors are inoperable, general anesthesia with opium||1295||Marco Polo returns to Italy|
|1315||Clinical separation of benign and malignant breast tumors, surgeons learn regional anatomy||1314||Dante writes the Divine Comedy|
|1320||Scirrhus and carcinoma are cancers, classification according to size, site and depth, theory of external carcinogens in England||1319||Prosecution for body‐snatching|
|1368||Cancers are cold, diet and purgatives for treatment||1369||Building the Bastille in Paris|
|1390||Anorectal cancers are firm and incurable||1388||Scotts defeat the English at Chevy Chase|
Hajdu’s is a 7 part series and contains vast amounts of fascinating historical information on both the history of cancer as well as the history of treatments for it. I highly recommend checking them out.
The “War on Cancer” began in 1971 when the National Cancer Act became law. This law became the basis for most cancer treatment organizations, and to help these organizations gain more power to increase research. The United States and other developed nations have spent countless hours and countless dollars on the War. Despite all of this effort however, from 1950 to 2005, death rates have only dropped 5%. However, this could account for higher life expectancy and better mortality rates with cancer.
Cancer Causes and How to Reduce Risk
So what causes cancer? The answers to this are a little convoluted. While we have some scientific evidence as to what can cause cancer, the American Cancer Society (ACS) states there is much we still don’t know. The ACS has put together a list of some of the more prominent causes:
- Smoking and Tobacco use, including e-cigarettes can cause cancer of the lungs, mouth, throat, etc.
- Excessive alcohol consumption, poor diet, lack of exercise, and obesity are factors as well.
- UV Radiation from the sun can cause skin cancer and prolonged exposure to gamma radiation and x-rays can also be factors. Make sure you wear sunscreen!
- Infections are linked to 15%-20% of cancers worldwide. While generally not cancer causing on their own, they can mutate or weaken cells that can then become cancerous later in life.
- Viruses, including HIV and HPV, have been linked to many different types of cancers, primarily in the lower parts of the body such as the genitals. HIV and other viruses that weaken the immune system, also play a role in lowering your body’s natural defense system.
- Genetics, including family genetics play a role as well. It can greatly increase your risk of certain cancers, as well as your body’s natural ability to fight off those cancers.
How can we reduce our risk of cancer? The Mayo Clinic offers these 7 easy tips:
- Do not use any tobacco products and avoid secondhand smoke as well.
- Eat a healthy diet including:
- Plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Choose fewer high calorie foods including refined sugars.
- Limit alcohol use. Alcohol consumption has been linked to cancers of the breasts, colon, lungs, liver, and colon.
- Limit processed meats.
- Maintain a healthy weight and stay physically active.
- Protect yourself from the sun:
- Avoid the midday sun as it is stronger and has more UV rays.
- Stay in the shade, or use a wide brimmed hat.
- Use at minimum, SPF 30 sunscreen and be vigilant about reapplying especially when swimming or spending time in water.
- Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps. These can be just as damaging as actual sunlight.
- Get vaccinated. As well as protecting you from a host of diseases that can injure you or even kill you, be sure to get the Hepatitis B and HPV vaccines to protect against liver, cervical, and other genital cancers.
- Avoid risky behaviors. Be sure to practice safe sex procedures such as wearing condoms and limiting sexual partners. Also, avoid sharing or coming into contact with used needles.
- Regular self-exams, cancer screenings, and regular medical check-ups can make all the difference. In many cases, cancer that is caught as quickly as possible, has a higher chance of going into remission.
These helpful tips can make a tremendous difference in being able to keep the poison of cancer at bay.
A History of Treatment
Throughout recorded time, cancer treatments have been as numerous and varied as the diseases they propose to treat. Beginning with Hippocrates and bloodletting etc, cancer treatment has evolved quite drastically. In the beginning, the concept of an autopsy was not common, and in fact was not only frowned upon, but outright banned by the Pope at one point.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, dissection and autopsy became more prevalent and cancer understanding dramatically improved. It was discovered that cancer metastasises (spreads throughout the body from the initial tumor). It was thought at the time, that cancer could be contagious as well. Surgery was considered the best option, however, until the 19th century, it was not safe as hygiene was not great. In the late 19th century, Marie and Pierre Curie discovered radiation and its practical applications in medicine. Non-surgical radiation became a new substitute for tumor removal surgery.
Treatment Options Today
In modern times, scientists and researchers have been studying the myriad of cancer more fiercely than ever. According to a Forbes Magazine article from December 2018, there are many new advancements on the horizon we should look out for. These include:
Eventually, we moved to newer medications in addition to the stand-bys of surgery and radiation. After a study of Japanese civilians after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs were dropped, it was also discovered that a bone marrow transplant could be very effective for certain cancer types.
- Immunotherapy: This technique involves using cells to activate or suppress parts of the body’s immune system. This technique has been very effective in certain individuals, though more research is needed to understand why it has not worked for everyone.
- Liquid Biopsy Tests: These easy, simple, blood tests will assist doctors in identifying cancer much more quickly than tests currently available. They are cheaper, and they can be even more accurate than current methods.
- Reducing Side Effects of Treatments: Numerous studies have been done or are in the works that are helping those who are in remission deal with the side effects of their cancer treatments.
- Organiods: This exciting new technology allows scientists to create tiny organs using the patient’s tissues and then test out cancer treatments on them first before putting the patient at risk of side effects, and lowered hopes.
The National Cancer Institute advises the treatment options that are in use today are in some ways similar to those that were used in historical times. These include:
- Surgery: Generally safe, this method attempts to remove the cancerous tumors in one fell swoop so they cannot reproduce and spread.
- Radiation: Targeted blasts of radiation designed to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. This method unfortunately also damages healthy cells.
- Chemotherapy: Using chemicals to attempt to kill the bad cancerous cells. Unfortunately this method also damages healthy cells which can lead to a host of other Immune issues.
- Hormone Therapy: This slows or stops the production of hormones such as testosterone and estrogen. This is primarily used in breast, testicular, and prostate cancers as the cancers utilize these hormones to grow and reproduce.
- Stem Cell Transplant: Stem cell research has incredible medical and scientific applications. In this instance, healthy blood producing stem cells are transferred into the cancer patient to replace those that chemotherapy or radiation killed.
Medical News Today advises that while the current treatments are great, there are many more new methods coming out. Some favorites include:
- Therapeutic Viruses or Dendritic Viruses: In this method, Dendrites are removed from the patient’s body. (These cells are key in helping the body’s immune system.) These cells are then amped up and “taught” how to kill specific cancer cells. They are injected back into the body and they go on a John Wick type killing spree, destroying all cancer cells in their path. As awesome as this sounds, there are still many risks, and healthy tissue can still be damaged.
- Nanoparticles: While seemingly the stuff of science fiction, these microscopic particles can be taught where to go and what to attack. There has already been strides in treating cancer with these particles hyperthermically where the cells heat up and kill the cancer cells from inside themselves.
- Starving Tumors: This treatment involves blocking the nutrients the cancer cells need to survive. This causes them to die on their own.
Supporting Cancer Patients
Terri Clark said, “When someone has cancer, the whole family and everyone who loves them does, too.” While I personally have not been affected myself or in my immediate family, I know many people who have been. In fact, some of my dearest friends have a little girl who was recently diagnosed. The way the community has come out to support her and her family has been truly incredible. Local restaurants have held fundraisers, someone organized a 5k event, and the donations and love and support from everyone has been tremendous.
Gilda Radner said, “Having cancer gave me membership in an elite club I’d rather not belong to.” Now that our friend or family member is in this club, how can we help and support them and show them we care? These are important questions because we don’t want to say the wrong things, or force the ones we love, who may not be feeling top notch, into doing things they don’t want to.
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center as well as Cancer.net are excellent resources and offer these helpful tips:
- Ask before you visit. Sometimes the individuals are not having a good day. This could be because of medication, lack of sleep, general exhaustion, etc. Let them decide and sometimes change their minds, and don’t overstay your welcome.
- Set-up a phone team. This means only one person, not 100 calls the patient and then updates everyone else. This saves the patient from endless phone calls and having to repeat the same thing over again.
- Offer to help. This may sound easy enough, but simply getting groceries, taking care of their lawn, picking up their kids, or even doing laundry can be an enormous help. Simply make a list of the things you are willing to do to help, and give it to them. Then make sure you follow through.
- Listen. This may be one of the most important ways we can help. If you feel awkward and don’t know how to begin the conversation or what to say, be honest. Be loving, understanding, and polite. Don’t worry too much about the awkwardness. This is new, confusing, and different for them as well. Also, be sure to not only talk about cancer. Find other important or frivolous lines of conversation. Their body is being controlled by cancer, don’t let their thoughts all be as well.
- Everyone’s cancer is different. This is important to remember. Do not compare someone you know, or even your own cancer experience to theirs. Everyone deals with everything in their own way.
- Give thoughtful gifts. Making them dinner, sending flowers, etc. sound great on the surface but dietary restrictions, nausea, and weakened immune systems may render these gifts useless to the patient. Instead write them a letter, make a video, gift them a cleaning gift card, etc.
- Support their family members. While the patient bears the brunt of the treatments and the diagnosis, their caregivers are dealing in their own way as well. Offer to have your partner/spouse take theirs out for a girls/boys night. Have their kids come to your house for a playdate. This helps these caregivers get out, and still remember to live their lives.
- Support yourself. Katie Reed said, “Self-care is giving the world the best of you, instead of what’s left of you.” Make sure you have given yourself time to process and your own feelings, so you can be emotionally available to the individual.
- Allow them to feel. Sometimes they will want to be sad, and while it can be good to help them get out of it, it’s important to remember that sorrow is an emotion too. Sometimes you need to cry it out so you can re-center and take on the world.
- Cancer is not contagious! Don’t withhold normal, appropriate physical touch that you are used to giving them. Cancer is marginalizing enough, don’t give it more power.
- Love them. Think of these words by Regina Brett, “Cancer is messy and scary. You throw everything at it, but don’t forget to throw love at it. It turns out that might be the best weapon of all.”
How can I help?
Clint Eastwood said, “Movies are fun, but they are no cure for cancer.” As a huge movie buff, this one stood out to me and made me think. I take it to mean, what have I done to help? I have gone to the movies, bought them, etc. But have I donated to cancer research? Have I been as helpful as I could have been to family or friends who needed me? This is not just limited to movies of course. We all have our priorities in spending money and time, maybe it’s time to reevaluate some of that time.
Now, I’m not saying you need to give every penny you have to cancer research, or spend every waking moment with someone who has cancer. But we can all do more! Here are some good ways you can help the Cause:
- Volunteering: With permission, visit the cancer wards of your hospital. Bring teddy bears to kids, sing or play music for the patients, and ask the hospital or institute how else you can be involved. Get involved in community fundraisers and events.
- Large Scale Fundraising: No surprise here, but money is the number one way we can assist. Research is expensive, but it is research into the causes and effects of cancer that will beat this monster once and for all. While donating to separate organizations is great, cancer research is a team effort. Using something like www.aGoodCause.com‘s “End Cancer” Campaign is all about this teamwork. This is a first of its kind, specialized crowdfunding campaign designed to raise money for several life-saving organizations at once. It can be easily shared on social media, and you can securely donate one time, or on a recurring basis. You don’t even need to create an account or sign in to donate. Check it out at: www.agoodcause.com/campaigns/end-cancer/. This one of a kind campaign distributes funds raised directly to organizations like The American Cancer Society, The Huntsman Cancer Foundation, the Mayo Clinic, and the World Cancer Research Fund.
- Individual Fundraising: Medical bills are expensive, and sometimes, cancer treatments don’t fall under Health Insurance. To help your friends/families/acquaintances, encourage them to set up a crowdfunding fundraiser or set one up for them. It only takes a few minutes to get it running and it can help life a huge weight. A website like www.agoodcause.com is a great tool to help support your friends and family in this way. Plus, its fees are less than it’s colleagues, and the money can be placed into your account immediately rather than having to wait a set amount of time.
“Cancer is a word, not a sentence.” – John Diamon
We must have hope that things can be better. Now that you know a little more about cancer, maybe it’s not quite as scary as the monster in the closet because you know its there. Remember what we talked about earlier, “Knowledge is Power!” Be helpful to your friends and family members. Do not abandon them in their time of need, and be sure to listen to their needs. Help raise funds and if you are not in a position to donate money, then donate time. Time is just as valuable as money, and can at times make even more of a difference. There is always something you can do to help. Princess Diana said, “Life is mostly froth and bubble, but two things stand like stone: friendship in another’s trials and courage in your own.” Always, always, choose friendship.
Cancer Help Line – 800-227-2345
A 24/7 Hotline for those diagnosed and their caregivers to receive love, support, and a listening ear.
Suicide Hotline – 800-273-8255
A 24/7 Hotline for people struggling with feelings of depression and thoughts of suicide in general and also after a bad cancer diagnosis.
Crisis Text Line – Text RISE or CONNECT to 741-741
A 24/7 Textline for people struggling with feelings of depression and thoughts of suicide in general and also after a bad cancer diagnosis.
Author: Elijah Brandley
“7 Healthy Habits That Can Reduce Your Risk of Cancer.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 28 Nov. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/cancer-prevention/art-20044816.
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“Cancer Statistics.” National Cancer Institute, www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/understanding/statistics.
Cohut, Maria. “Cancer: How Close Are We to Curing It?” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 2 Mar. 2018, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321106.php.
“End Cancer.” Agoodcause.com, agoodcause.com/campaigns/end-cancer/.
Forster, Victoria. “Five Things To Look Out For In Cancer Research In 2019.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 30 Dec. 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/victoriaforster/2018/12/28/five-things-to-look-out-for-in-cancer-research-in-2019/#20fbcce91304.
Hajdu, Steven I. “A Note from History: Landmarks in History of Cancer, Part 1.” Cancer, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 19 Oct. 2010, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/cncr.25553.
“History of Cancer.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 May 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_cancer.
“Supporting a Friend Who Has Cancer.” Cancer.Net, 7 Jan. 2019, www.cancer.net/coping-with-cancer/talking-with-family-and-friends/supporting-friend-who-has-cancer.
“Types of Cancer Treatment.” National Cancer Institute, www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/types.“What Causes Cancer?” American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes.html.