What happens with cancer

Author: Dr. med. habil. Gesche Tallen, created December 11, 2003, editing: Maria Yiallouros, approval: Prof. Dr. med. Dr. H. c. G√ľnter Henze, last changed: 04.06.2020

Cancer is a disease that results from the degeneration and uncontrolled reproduction of a body cell. Normal body cells have a healthy internal clock. This internal clock regulates, for example, the time of division, growth and maturation, aging and / or death of a cell. It controls all the normal processes that control the life phases of a cell - the so-called cell cycle. This regulatory mechanism is disturbed in the cancer cell.

Theoretically, every cell in the body can degenerate and thus become a cancer cell. According to this, there are many different types of cancer in both adults and children and adolescents. Depending on the type of cell and which and how many organs of the body are affected, they are expressed by different symptoms. The various diseases require different treatment, and the chances of recovery are also different. With some cancers in childhood and adolescence, it is assumed that the degeneration of the first cell took place before birth.

Good to know: Cancer in young people under the age of 20 is rare in Europe. They only make up one percent of all diseases that occur in childhood and adolescence.

Cancer can occur in the form of leukemia or lymphoma and thus affect the blood-forming system in the bone marrow or the lymphatic system (e.g. spleen, lymph nodes). Since the disease affects the entire body in these cases, the experts also speak of systemic diseases (or systemic diseases).

However, cancer can also develop as a solid tumor in internal organs. Depending on the type of tissue it originated from, it is referred to as a sarcoma (made of degenerate nerve, connective or supporting tissue, e.g. bones, cartilage, muscles) or as carcinoma (degenerated cells of organ walls or glands). In addition, embryonic tumors known as blastomas are relatively common in childhood and adolescence. These tumors arise during the development of tissues or organs from cells that are immature or barely mature (undifferentiated). For this reason, the tumor tissue cannot be assigned to any specific tissue type.

It is typical of cancer cells that they multiply uncontrollably and quickly, regardless of the cell type or tissue type they are based on. In doing so, they often pass on information to their daughter cells that is harmful to the healthy organism. Most of the time, they cannot perform their actual cell function. Instead, they penetrate healthy tissue and / or displace it, impair its normal function and destroy it.

In addition, cancer cells can be transported from their place of origin via the blood and / or lymph system within the whole body and thus form subdivisions (metastases). Even at the time when cancer is diagnosed, it must therefore be assumed that many tiny daughter settlements (micro-metastases) are already present, even if they can rarely be detected with conventional examination methods.

Treatment of the visible tumor is therefore usually insufficient. The metastases that are not yet visible must also be treated right from the start, i.e. systemic treatment must be carried out. Because cancer, regardless of which cell it originated from, almost always affects the entire organism.

Because of these many aggressive, the entire body damaging and thus life-threatening properties, cancer is also called malignant or malignant disease.

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