This question came to my mind as I was writing my reflections on the Cancer lecture I attended. I had never thought about Cancer in such great detail before and it made me start pondering on the biology of Cancer itself. I know that Cancer is an uncontrollable growth of your own body cells and I understand that this can cause a lump to occur or pain in that area. But, how does growth (even if uncontrollable) of Cancer cells actually cause the listed symptoms in a patient? Make them feel weak? And in some unfortunate cases kill a patient? Surely, your normal body cells are dividing everyday so why does this faster rate of division have such a profound impact?
So, I did some research in this and here’s what I found out:
Cancer cells which restricted to one area are said to be Benign, but if they spread to other parts of the body they are then known as Malignant. Malignant tumours are those that tend to end up killing a patient as they can invade different tissues and organs and grow more tumours. This type of cancer has the capacity to kill a person as cancer cells are much more active than normal body cells and therefore require more energy. Our bodies cannot support so much growth and the maintenance of these cells, therefore weakening a person.
I also discovered that some cancer cells can actually metabolise other cells in the body causing tissue damage and perhaps prevent certain bodily functions from occurring depending on which part of the body they are in. They can also stop bodily functions by physically obstructing healthy body cells so they will be unable to continue with their usual roles. They could fill up organs so an organ will not be able to do its job any more. If cancer spreads to take over a part of the body that performs an essential function this can kill you. For example, if the cancer is growing in part of the digestive system, it can prevent the digestion and absorption of food by blocking the digestive system so food will not be able to go through the intestines. If food doesn’t pass through, the nutrients from the food will not be absorbed causing the person to eventually die. Similarly, if it is located in the lungs, the tumour can interfere with breathing; in the liver it could create an imbalance of chemicals in the blood and the body’s mechanisms to reverse these changes will become too overwhelmed to function – the levels will continue out of control until the patient dies.