Five Facts You Should Know About Cancer
April 05, 2010
Recently, Stonehill joined in the fight against cancer by holding its sixth annual Relay for Life on campus where a record crowd of 393 participants gathered to raise over $30,000 for the American Cancer Society (ACS).
Roughly 562,400 Americans are expected to die of cancer this year, more than 1,500 people a day, according to the ACS.
The National Cancer Institute has spent billions of dollars on cancer research and prevention since 1971 when President Richard Nixon declared war on cancer.
With no end in sight to the war against cancer, Stonehill biology professors and authors of the new book Cancer: Basic Science and Clinical Aspects, Craig Almeida and Sheila Barry shared with us five facts everyone should know about cancer.
1) Diagnosis of cancer, in most cases, is not a death sentence.
"Many people are still dying of cancer obviously but it's not the death sentence that it once seemed to be. We know so much more about what causes cancer as a result of research," Almeida explains.
Through research, hundreds of substances have been identified as carcinogenic to humans, including asbestos and benzene, which was used in after-shave lotion, decaffeinated coffee and gasoline at one time. Based on these findings, certain laws and regulations that restrict production and exposure to carcinogens have been put in place, say Barry and Almeida.
2) Personalized treatments are becoming more common.
Understanding what causes cancer and how the disease actually operates has allowed doctors to better treat the disease, especially when diagnosed at an early stage, they add.
"Treatment used to be a ‘one size fits all' type of thing but it's not like that anymore," Barry explains. "Now, you may have 20 different women with breast cancer, each with a different treatment approach."
Almeida says analyzing tumors and understanding the unique characteristics of a particular person's tumor has resulted in individualized treatments. "One person may have surgery followed by radiation but not chemotherapy. Another may have radiation and chemotherapy."
3) One goal is managing cancer as a chronic disease.
"This is the federal government's goal and that makes much more sense than saying we are going to cure all cases," says Barry. "Cancer isn't one disease, it's over a hundred."
"People hear the word cancer and they think of it as a single disease and therefore think there is some simple thing we can do to eliminate all cancer. It's just not that simplistic," explains Almeida. "It's a multitude of diseases; you have to look at it that way."
Barry says she often tells her students if they are going to go into cancer research, "don't think there is going to be an ‘ah ha!' moment where you think you've cured cancer. It's not going to work like that. It's many little pieces all put together."
4) While skin cancer is a common cancer, incidences are not reported.
"A dermatologist may see a particular lesion on a skin that may be suspicious but they could just shave or freeze it off and not do a biopsy, whereas is if you saw something suspicious in the breast, you would do a biopsy," explains Almeida.
The principal risk factor for skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light or sunlight. The two most common types of skin cancer, basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, are highly curable. Melanoma, the third most common skin cancer, is more dangerous, especially among young people, the CDC reports.
"The World Health Organization's cancer division announced last year that it was moving UV tanning beds to its highest cancer risk category," notes Barry.
Almeida and Barry say that among reported cancers, prostate and breast cancers are the number one diagnosed cancers in men and women, respectively. They also report that more men and women die each year of lung cancer than any other form of the disease.
5) You don't need to be a smoker to develop lung cancer.
In their book, Barry and Almeida report that 10% of men and 20% of women with lung cancer have never smoked.
"We know that second hand smoke can cause cancer but sometimes you can have somebody that never smoked and was not exposed to second hand smoke regularly, who still develops lung cancer, especially women," says Barry.
Aside from smoking, there are a host of other contributing factors, many of them environmental, that are assessed for a causal link to lung cancer, they say.
"Part of the problem is that some of these cancers can arise from effects over a 20 year period," says Almeida.
"Lung cancer used to be the least funded cancer; more money is now beginning to be devoted towards it," says Barry. "There are those who had lung cancer that couldn't join a support group because people would say they brought it on themselves because they smoked but that is slowly changing now."
About the Authors
Cancer: Basic Science and Clinical Aspects was published in January by Wiley-Blackwell.
Barry has been teaching at the College since 1980 and currently serves as the pre-Allied Health Professions advisor on campus. She is also responsible for the annual Stonehill event "Making Strides Against Breast Cancer."
Almeida became Stonehill's first Dean of Academic Achievement in 2008 and has been teaching at the College since 1995.
Together, Barry and Almeida have been teaching the course Biology of Cancer, since the spring of 2000.
For more information, contact Communications and Media Relations at 508-565-1321.