Everybody has cancer
In this section, I'll be looking at what cancer is, why it's
not to be feared as much as you might think and what your body is
already doing to fight its effects, even while you sleep!
What is cancer?
Cancer is actually a family of problems, all caused by
cells that refuse to die when ordered to and which then divide after
their own kind, crowding out healthy cells and, eventually, causing
major problems with normal body functions.
Normally, the cells in your body operate to a predefined
lifecycle - creation, usefulness and then self-destruction. Millions of cells every minute of your life. The
timescale can vary hugely from a few weeks to your entire lifetime, but
the mechanisms are there for the cells to be controlled. If something
goes wrong within a cell, a process called apoptosis kicks in,
effectively a 'shutdown' command for the cell, which then destroys
With such a prodigious rate of cell
division/creation, it's not
surprising that there's scope for things going wrong. It turns out that
cells often mutate, i.e get
created with flaws, every
minute of every
day in each one of our
bodies. Each potentially cancerous.
Why you shouldn't panic because of the presence of cancer
Mutating cells. Every day. In all
our bodies! However, our bodies, if in perfect running order, are
an immune system that has clean up mechanisms that can effect running
As we get older, the chances of a cancerous mutation which can
elude the killer cells increase, plus our immune systems have
weakened. Add in a lifetime of exposure to carcinogens (chemicals
around us that can damage our DNA) and it's easy to see why cancer
becomes far more of a problem, the older we get.
Note that cancer in itself isn't necessarily a huge problem
though - the number of clusters of cancerous cells in our body will
grow as we get old but often go undetected because they don't cause a
problem. For example, it has been estimated that half of all men have
prostate cancer when they die. But only a small fraction of these will
because of the cancer, most will die of other causes - heart failure or
a major disease, etc.
My single, over-arching point is not to get freaked out about
the presence of
cancer cells in your body - they're popping up every day of your life.
What's important is understanding the ways your body fights these
mutated cells and destroys them.
How your body fights cancerous cells
The wonderful human immune system has multiple safety measures
to defend against cancerous cells. It has specialised genes that detect
suspicious behaviour and shut down cell growth or trigger cell
destruction. There are even specialised 'natural killer cells' that
hunt down cancerous, mutating cells and release toxic granules that