Maybe The Most Disliked Word In The World: CANCER

Cancer, a complex disease, has been a part of human history for centuries. The first scientific description, by Richard Bright in 1713, highlighted its uncontrolled cell growth. In the 19th century, Rudolf Virchow's cell theory advanced understanding. The 20th century saw significant research leading to treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Cancer is a complex disease that can be difficult to understand. There are many common questions about cancer, such as what causes it, how is it diagnosed, and what are the treatment options. Oftentimes, the questions and answers you get, the more difficult it is to understand and the scarier it can become.Β 


Cancer has been around for centuries, and there is evidence of it in ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman civilizations. However, the first scientific description of cancer was not published until 1713 by the English physician Richard Bright. Bright described cancer as a "malignant tumor" that was characterized by uncontrolled cell growth.

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In the 19th century, scientists began to learn more about the causes of cancer. In 1858, the German physician Rudolf Virchow proposed that cancer was caused by changes in cells. Virchow's theory was later confirmed by the work of other scientists, such as Theodor Boveri and Peyton Rous.

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In the 20th century, there was a significant increase in research on cancer. This research led to the development of new treatments for cancer, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. There was also progress in understanding the genetics of cancer, which led to the development of targeted therapies.

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Today, cancer is still a major health problem, but there have been significant advances in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer. In this article, we will explain the cancer basics to help you feel more prepared if questions or concerns arise for you or a loved one.


What is cancer?

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Cancer is a group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body. These contrast with benign tumors, which do not spread.

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The symptoms of cancer can vary depending on the type of cancer and the stage of the cancer. Some common symptoms of cancer include:

  • A lump or mass
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Persistent cough or hoarseness
  • Change in bowel or bladder habits
  • Unexplained bleeding or discharge
  • Pain that does not go away
  • Fatigue
  • Indigestion or difficulty swallowing
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Vision changes

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Don’t fret if you have had or are experiencing any of these symptoms! While these symptoms may indicate cancer, they may have 100s of other causes. Get peace of mind by talking to your healthcare provider immediately.

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How can I be sure I have cancer?

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The diagnosis of cancer is usually made based on a combination of factors, including the patient's symptoms, a physical exam, and medical tests. The most common medical tests used to diagnose cancer include:

  • Blood tests: Blood tests can be used to look for cancer cells or cancer markers, which are substances that are produced by cancer cells.
  • Imaging tests: Imaging tests, such as X-rays, CT scans, and MRI scans, can be used to look for tumors or other signs of cancer.
  • Biopsy: A biopsy is a procedure in which a small piece of tissue is removed from the body and examined under a microscope to look for cancer cells.

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What are the causes of cancer?

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The causes of cancer are complex and not fully understood. However, there are a number of factors that can increase the risk of cancer, including:

  • Age: The risk of cancer increases with age.
  • Family history: People with a family history of cancer are at increased risk of developing cancer.
  • Genetics: Some people are born with genes that increase their risk of cancer.
  • Environmental factors: Exposure to certain environmental factors, such as smoking, radiation, and certain chemicals, can increase the risk of cancer.
  • Lifestyle factors: Certain lifestyle factors, such as being overweight, eating a poor diet, and not exercising, can also increase the risk of cancer.

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What are the treatment options for cancer?

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The treatment options for cancer vary depending on the type of cancer, the stage of the cancer, and the patient's overall health. The most common treatment options for cancer include:

  • Surgery: Surgery is used to remove the tumor and any cancerous tissue.
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams to kill cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells.
  • Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy uses drugs to target specific molecules involved in cancer growth.
  • Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy uses the body's own immune system to fight cancer.

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The most common side effects of cancer treatments include:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Hair loss
  • Mouth sores
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Weight loss
  • Infertility

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How can I prevent cancer?

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There are a number of things that can be done to help prevent cancer, including:

  • Do not smoke: Smoking is the leading cause of cancer. Quitting smoking is the best way to reduce your risk of cancer.
  • Eat a healthy diet: Eating a healthy diet that is low in fat and high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help to reduce your risk of cancer.
  • Exercise regularly: Exercise can help to reduce your risk of cancer.
  • Get regular screening tests: Getting regular screening tests can help to detect cancer early, when it is more treatable.
  • Avoid exposure to harmful substances: Avoid exposure to harmful substances such as smoking, radiation, and certain chemicals.

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What is the outlook for people with cancer?

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The outlook for people with cancer depends on the type of cancer, the stage of the cancer, and the patient's overall health. However, cancer survival rates have been improving in recent years. For example, the 5-year survival rate for breast cancer is now over 90%.

Cancer is a serious disease, but it is important to remember that it is not always fatal. Early detection and treatment are key to successful cancer treatment. By being aware of the common cancers and their symptoms, you can help to spot cancer early and get the treatment you need.

Cancer treatment centers south of The Cooper:

  • Charleston Oncology - 2085 Henry Tecklenburg Dr 2nd Floor, Charleston, SC 29414
  • Roper St. Francis Cancer Center - 2085 Henry Tecklenburg Dr, Charleston, SC 29414
  • MUSC Health Lung Cancer Screening at Hollings Cancer Center - 86 Jonathan Lucas St 2nd/3rd Floors, Charleston, SC 29425
  • MUSC Health Hematology Oncology at Hollings Cancer Center - 86 Jonathan Lucas St 2nd Floor, 3rd Floor, Charleston, SC 29425
  • MUSC Health Head & Neck Tumor Center at Hollings Cancer Center - ​​86 Jonathan Lucas St 3rd Floor, Charleston, SC 29425
  • MUSC - Radiation Oncology - 169 Ashley Ave, Charleston, SC 29425
  • American Cancer Society - 269 Calhoun St, Charleston, SC 29401

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