What is cancer?
In very simple terms cancer is uncontrolled cell growth.
Although there are many types of cancer affecting different organs in the body, they all are caused by uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells.
In a healthy individual cells grow, divide, and die in a highly regulated fashion. During childhood, healthy cells grow and divide very rapidly until the individual becomes an adult. At this stage, cell growth slows until in most parts of the body, cells only divide to replace worn-out or dying cells and repair injuries.
Cancer cells arise when irreparable damage occurs to DNA. This damage can be caused by environmental factors such as excessive sunlight or smoking to name just two. In addition people can inherit damaged DNA accounting for types of cancer that occur in families such as some breast cancers.
Cancer cells often travel to other parts of the body where they begin to grow and replace normal tissue. This process, called metastasis, occurs when cancer cells find their way into the bloodstream or lymphatic system of our body. When cells from a cancer like bowel cancer spreads to another organ like the liver, the cancer is still called bowel cancer, not liver cancer.
Given its effect on all Australians, both socially and economically, it is the Australian Cancer Research Foundation’s belief that everyone can play a role in finding treatments for the many different types of cancer. Cancer is a community problem. And all of us need to play a role in the search for the cure.
Cancer researchSustained research is helping to reduce the death rate by finding better ways to detect, manage and treat all different types of cancer. Twenty years ago there were fewer drugs to fight cancers. No-one knew, for example, that radiotherapy after surgery would dramatically improve survival rates. Twenty years ago therapies were less successful.
The good news is that more than half of the new cases of cancer diagnosed will be successfully treated. Research has made a significant impact on the lives of patients with cancer. The survival rate for many common cancers has increased by more than 30 per cent in the past two decades, due to treatment improvements and new interventions facilitated by research. Click on the video below to find out what major developments in cancer prevention, diagnosis and cure are just over the horizon.
Twenty years from now we hope that all types of cancer will be treatable: with vaccines (like Professor Ian Frazer’s breakthrough vaccine to prevent cervical cancer), or using gene-based technology, targeted cancer therapies, or other, completely novel methods.
Today’s research will find tomorrow’s cure.
But while the wheels are in motion, major hurdles still remain. For many types of cancer, progress is slow, and even where major discoveries have been made for other types of cancer, there is still significant work to be done.