Cancer is a frightening word. It seems that almost everyone knows someone who has had a battle with cancer at least once. In fact, a 2017 poll conducted by CBS News indicated that at least half of all Americans have had a family member diagnosed with cancer; and that figure held across all socio-economic demographics.
Cancer is so common that some believe we all have cancer cells just sitting dormant in our bodies waiting to kill us. Is this the case? Do we all have cancer cells?
Do We All Have Cancer Cells?
Cancer is a disease which occurs within the DNA of cells in the human body. Cells make up every part of our bodies and normally, they grow and divide to a point then stop; eventually, they die. However, something triggers some cells to continue growing.
When the cells continue to grow, they start to clump together. This is known as a tumor. If the tumor becomes large enough, it can cause damage to organs and other tissues.
The resulting growth or tumor is referred to as benign or malignant. Although benign is not as serious as a malignant growth, no tumor is good and most cause some pain and discomfort. Too, left untreated, many benign tumors will eventually become malignant.
When some of the cells break off, they can travel to other parts of the body causing further harm. This process is known as Metastasis.
So, in answer to the question of whether we all have cancer cells…kind of. We do, in the sense that we all have cells and any cell can become cancerous, but cancer does not reside within us simply waiting to grow. In that sense, we do not “normally have” cancer cells.
Why Do Cancer Cells Form?
Cancer cells form after a gene mutation takes place within the DNA of a cell or cells. Researchers are still not entirely certain why these mutations take place. They know that in a small percentage of cases, people are born with an inherited mutation.
In most cases however, gene mutations happen because of something in our environment. The change or mutation may
- permit rapid growth of the cells
- prevent uncontrolled growth
- cause mistakes in the repair of DNA
- or a combination of all three.
Known environmental causes of cancer have been termed carcinogens. There are both known carcinogens and suspected carcinogens. Known carcinogens are those which researchers have identified definite triggers for turning normal cells into cancer cells. We are all exposed to many of these daily, so in yet another sense, some may well claim that we all have cancer cells.
To better help the public understand carcinogens, cancer organizations teach “risk factors.” These risk factors are foods, chemicals, or other things in our environment which researchers either strongly believe or know for fact to be the cause of cell mutations.
Most people already know several of these risk factors, which include:
- Agent Orange
- Diesel Exhaust
- Talcum Powder
- Certain Radiation
In fact, there are presently more than 176 known carcinogens or risk factors and many more suspected.
We All Have Cells Which Can Become Cancer
Since we all have cells and all cells are susceptible to the development of cancer, some could say we all have cancer cells. However, such a belief is dangerous because it would cause some to conclude that we have no control over whether we develop cancer.
The fact is, if we can avoid the carcinogens which can trigger cancer cell growth, we strongly increase our chances of never developing this terrible disease. At Kymera Independent Physicians, we are dedicated to both treating cancer patients and fighting to stop cancer at the source. This is why we often conduct our own independent oncology research.
If you or someone you love is concerned you may have cancer, please request an appointment now. We want to help.