ENGAGING CANCER

Cancer starts from errors in coding as a result of mutations which could occur naturally by heredity when cells are multiplying or induced by an external agent

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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. Not all tumors are cancerous and benign tumors do not spread to other parts of the body.

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Today, millions of people will march all over the world to commemorate the world cancer day. Irrespective of our religion, tribe, nation and political views, this is the day we highlight to fight this menace that has claimed the lives of millions and shattered the hope of many families.

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To explain cancer in simpler terms, biology has taught us all living things are made up of cells, be it unicellular (one) as the case of some microorganisms and multicellular (plenty) as the case of humans. The cell is the basic unit of life. Our cells contain the genetic material “genes” located in the DNA. These genes are made up of simple coding which defines the function of the cell.

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 The interactions of these gene replaces cells when they are damaged or need to grow. These lead to the formation and functionality of tissues, organs and different systems in our body. Just like a computer, made up with various coding and algorithms which help different softwares to work and at the long run function in tandem as a computer.

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Cancer starts from errors in these coding as a result of mutations which could occur naturally by heredity when cells are multiplying or induced by an external agent. Basically, these mutations could occur in genes that control the way cells grow; tumour suppressor genes (TSG) and oncogenes (ONC).

Tumour suppressor genes function like a break system in a car, it halts the growing of cells while oncogenes function like the accelerator of a car, maintaining the speed or rate at which cells multiply. When either of TSG and ONC is affected, what will happen is either cells multiplying at an abnormal speed leading to the formation of tumour in an organ. This occur due to the inability of TSG ‘brakes’ to reduce the speed or cells multiplying excessively due to much pressure on the accelerator, the ONC.

Causes of cancer

Some cancers develop when an individual inherits a bad gene with mutations, an oncogene or a tumour suppressor gene from parents. As the person grows, the mutations increase and finally cancer develops at a particular stage in life. It is like buying a bad computer which eventually develops fault during use.

Some viruses induce mutations in the coding in these genes leading to cancer. Similar to the way viruses attack our computers leading to the deletion of some important files on the desktop leading to software malfunction and sometimes might affect the hardware.

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Carcinogens, chemical agents like benzene that can cause cancer when inhaled or consumed can also induce mutations. It is like using a computer to visit bad websites with malwares, installing fake applications or software that is incompatible with your computer. Also, some environmental factors like exposure to radiation can lead to cancer.

Life style, practices such as smoking can contribute to the induction most cancers. This is similar to personal choices you make with your computer at your own risk, removing a flash drive inappropriately, shutting down your computer unexpectedly or using your computer in an environment where liquids could spill on it. These practices can crash your computer just as a smoker is liable to die young either by lung cancer or other respiratory disorders.

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Another key risk factor that could initiate cancer is aging. The processes that control cell reproduction malfunctions. This lead to accumulation of toxic reactive oxygen species that damage mitochondria (cell engine). For example, reactive oxygen species above normal levels can oxidize our DNA.

The cure, Our Hope

Although we have been blessed with an immune system that could detect and destroy cancer cells, many cancer cells are well equipped to survive and evade these cells. Scientists are left with the option of finding cures for cancer, however, every cancer seems to be different, making it difficult to cure all cancers with one drug. Also, cancers can be well-managed and prevented, telling us cancer is not a death sentence.

Early detection, you can revive a computer which is dragging or slow as a result of malware or viruses. Install an antivirus as quick as possible, there you go. Taking your car to a mechanic when it flashes check engine, when you notice the grip of the brake has reduced or when the clutch smells will definitely prevent a sudden disaster when driving.

As well, early detection of cancers will significantly increase the chances of survival. Doctors would administer different form of therapies just like an antivirus in a computer. Cancerous cells would die and in many cases total remission could occur. However, successfully scanning and deleting the virus on your computer does not assure you your computer can not be infected again, hence, Cancer patients who are in remission can also have reoccurrence.

Some cancers are gender specific, some are age specific, like prostrate cancer and there are recommendations for when to start detecting them.

Positive lifestyle, practices such as eating fruits and vegetables, exercising, quitting smoking, maintaining a clean environment and avoiding junks can reduce the risk of cancer. Recent studies have discovered that processed meats, canned foods, over cooking food such as brown bread could cause cancer.

The Future, Cancer will one day be treated like any other disease with significantly reduced mortality rate. The approach to getting a cure is like traffic rules, using camera speed checkers on the road to prevent excessive speeding of cars and arrest those who over-sped by giving them a surprise ticket when they get home. We would one day detect and arrest rouge cells before the progression of cancers. The use of bumps on roads to prevent over-speeding and also slow down drivers, we are already slowing down the rate at which ONC drive our cells to induce cancer. In the nearest future, our immune system will boosted and trained to apprehend bad drivers of our genes.

Mahmud Abdullah Opekitan attended Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun state, Nigeria between 2008 and 2011 bagging a B.Sc Hons Microbiology with a Second Class, Upper Division. He Also has a Master of Biomedical Science degree in Biomolecular Science- With Distinction. He’s currently wrapping up his Phd in Cancer Biology from Strathclyde Institute Of Pharmacy And Biomedical Sciences. 

Author: Dr Ahmad Abdullah, MBBS, MSc Clinical Pathology

Ahmad is a father, a husband and a poet. He was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria. He earned his medical degree from the University of Juba, currently in South Sudan. He is interested in medical research and currently practicing in Lagos, Nigeria.

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