If you or someone close to you has been diagnosed with cancer, you know how overwhelming it can feel. Maybe you’re also getting a lot of confusing information and advice. The more you know, the more confident you’ll feel making decisions. That’s the way I see it.
If you asked me a year ago what cancer is, I would have struggled to give you a satisfactory or close to an accurate explanation. The first 38 years of my life were not significantly impacted by cancer. A friend of a friend, a distant relative or a neighbour a few doors up got cancer. No one in my family was going to get it. Not until we were all old anyways.
What is cancer?
I’ll give it my best shot at explaining it. Our bodies are made up of millions of cells. Inside each cell is an instruction manual called DNA, which has chapters we call genes. Genes tell the cells how to behave; when to make new cells, and when to die.
Cells grow by dividing; one cell divides into two cells, two cells become four cells, and so on. Cancer begins when one cell starts to grow uncontrollably.
Cells divide when their genes tell them too. But if a gene has a mutation, it might instruct a cell to divide when there’s no reason to. The cancer will rely on the blood supply to grow, when they draw blood cells to it, these vessels allow it to travel.
When these cells divide, they make a copy of their DNA in genes, so that each new cell has the same instructions. That copy also divides, and so on, while older or damaged cells are told to die off, making way for new healthy ones.
Occasionally, the DNA instruction manual in a cell can get damaged or mutated. The cause of this mutation could be:
- A chemical
- Environmental Carcinogen
- Unknown, lots of unknown
While healthy cells are trained to listen to signals for when to grow, divide and die, cells with mutated DNA sometimes ignore your body’s signals. These rogue cells continue to divide unchecked. This is how cancer starts. In some cases, cancer stays put and is localised. In other cases, the cancer spreads (metastases).
When they are metastatic, tumours consume the body’s resources as they grow, damaging healthy functioning tissues and organs along the way.
So that’s the easy part. Now, what are treatment options? and Why is TNBC such a bitch?