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Cancer Outline and the Importance of Cancer Research

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Cancer is a dangerous, complex, malignant tumor distinguished by unregulated, rapid and aggressive mitosis and growth of undifferentiated malfunctioning cells containing mutated genes (that form tumors). It is capable of invading surrounding tissues and metastasizing to various body organs and regions (thereby producing different cancer diseases inherent to body region such as lung cancer) using blood streams or lymphatic and circulatory systems throughout the body (due to lack of chemical adhesion molecules to anchor them to their growth site) to form new tumors to interfere with normal body functions, destroy bodily organs, causing blockages to blood vessels and subsequently collapsing the immune system if left untreated. It is irregularly shaped in comparison to normal surrounding cells, are not encapsulated and unorganized making it difficult to remove them.

Malignant tumors are commonly classified under either epithelial origin such as renal cell carcinoma or sarcoma which originates from supporting tissue such as osteosarcoma.

Common cancer characteristics include:

  1. sustaining proliferative signaling where cancer cells produce internal autocrine signals using mutated oncogenes (that promotes excessive cell growth) and tumor suppressor genes (does not stop cell proliferation.) despite receiving cell signals from neighboring cells to stop growing.
  2. evading growth suppressors: Cancerous cells alter tumor suppressor genes such that despite having damaged DNA, it continues to proliferate and lack contact inhibition.
  3. activating invasion and metastasis: Cancer cells moves away from its original location to move into distant body regions and organs using blood vessels and invade surrounding tissues and vessels to form new colonies and secondary tumors.’
  4. enabling replicative immortality: Cancerous cells evade senescence by lengthening their telomeric DNA using manipulated telomerase at the end of chromosomes that enables to divide indefinitely (unlike normal cells with shortening telomeres after every cell division until seizure – senescence) and avoid apoptosis
  5. inducing angiogenesis: Cancer cells form new blood vessels by manipulating and sending molecular signals to normal cells surrounding tumor that are capable of new vasculature production. This helps them to receive sufficient nutrients and oxygen and remove waste products.
  6. resisting cell death: Cancerous cells either inactivate TP53 tumor suppressor which detect abnormalities in cells and cause apoptosis or carry defects in proteins involved in programmed cell death thereby avoiding it which causes accumulation of damaged cells.

Cancer etiology involves mutation in genes that control cell division process such as oncogenes (sends molecular signals to cells for proliferate) which results in anaplasia (lack of cell specialisation).

Cancer risk factors include:

Age: Individuals aged 55 years and above are more susceptible in being diagnosed with cancer

Patient’s Lifestyle: Cigarette Smokers have increased risk for cancer

Environment: Acquiring specific chronic infections/bacteria such as Hepatitis B and hepatitis C that heightens susceptibility for liver cancer, Exposure to either ultraviolet radiation from the sun or ionizing radiation from medical imaging devices like x-rays, medication which are immunosuppressive that reduce both nonspecific and specific immune functions raising cancer development risk, carcinogen exposure or consumption that cause mutations in genetic activity like benzene and mercury

Hereditary: Individuals inheriting oncogenes which are cancer proliferation genes or having at risk genes which requires environmental stimulation to alter modify it into cancer such as basal cell carcinoma.

Some symptoms of cancer include having fever, unexplained weight loss, feeling fatigued or hyperpigmentation, persistent cough or any changes noticed in bowel or bladder functioning.

The diagnosis of cancer begins firstly with checking individual’s personal and family medical history of patient and receiving their presenting complaint to check for any signs or symptoms resembling cancer. Followed by physical examination of skin or other body structure for tumor location using palpation and auscultation to examine for any abnormal bruits around body areas like lungs or stomach. Then, further diagnostic tests should be ordered such as

Blood tests: To detect any abnormally high amounts of tumour markers (chemical produced by cancer cells) in bloodstream

Diagnostic imaging: X-rays – to check for potentially malignant tumors from still picture taken from inside the body, computed tomography (CT scan) – for 3D cross-sectional image of internal body organs that displays any tumors with dye injected into patient to increase contrast in image, ultrasonography – Using high frequency sound waves to reflect off bodily tissues for producing sonograms, Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to produce detailed cross sections of body by compelling tissues to emit radio waves

Biopsy: surgically removed sample of patient’s tissue is examined microscopically to check if it’s benign or malignant.

Cancers can be staged using its size or extension of spread using TNM staging system for instance (T-tumor size and any outgrowth to surrounding tissues, N-node in lymph system cancer has spread to, M-metastasis of cancer). It could also be graded to make prognosis of disease on scale of 1 to 4 (1 – tumor cells resemble surrounding tissues, 2 – slightly abnormal appearance of tumor cells, 3 – moderately abnormal tumor cells, 4 – highly abnormal tumor cells).

Treatment for cancer is vital and is based on cancer type, its stage and location with secondary factors such as patient’s general health and age considered to adjust treatment such as lower chemotherapy doses for elderly with weakened health. Common cancer treatments are:

  1. Chemotherapy: Using drugs to target and kill cells dividing quickly such as blood or bone marrow cells.
  2. Surgery: Using incisions to remove both tumor, surrounding tissues and optionally lymph nodes to prevent cancer relapse
  3. Radiation therapy: Using high-energy rays either externally (from large machine in cancer treatment areas) or internally (placing low radiation doses inside specific tissues of patient’s body) to cause damage to both cancerous and surrounding normal cellular DNA, thereby interrupting cell division and growth.
  4. Hormone Therapy: Providing hormone therapy medication to patients for suppressing hormone synthesis and blocking hormonal action for cancers that require hormones to grow.
  5. Non-specific Immunotherapy: Using monoclonal antibodies to either attached to cancer cells and stimulate immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells or using other types of monoclonal antibodies for carrying drugs/radioactive isotopes directly to cancer cells.

Cancer can be prevented by reducing the risk of developing them by individuals adopting healthier lifestyle choices such as:

  • Refraining from tobacco consumption
  • Participation in physical activity to maintain healthier weights
  • Consuming healthier diet consisting of fruits, vegetables and limiting polyunsaturated fats and processed meats
  • Limiting alcohol consumption
  • Applying sunscreen for protection against harmful UV rays
  • Getting immunizations against hepatitis B and the human papillomavirus
  • Individuals going for health screenings to increase detection of cancers especially in early stages to improve chances of treating them.

Cancer research (CR) is crucial as it has the highest mortality rate globally and is perplexing with more than 100 diseases under its category that slows finding cure for it. It requires collecting samples, examining and analyzing information using lab research and conducting clinical trials with cancer patients to find how different cancers begin, expand and metastasize, testing novel less invasive/safer treatments (E.g. therapies, vaccines) to evaluate and monitor its efficiency to prevent cancer recurrence (by detecting any dormant cancer cells) and side effects and finding out what and how screening tests can detect cancer earlier respectively. Especially with genomics technological advances and using computational approaches, the tumor microenvironment features could be further analyzed to understand its sensitivity or resistance to treatments and better understand its etiology, development and spread and offer drug recommendations to match patients’ genomic data.

Moreover, it’s an expansive research area due to huge number of cancer variants with having to find out causes, susceptibility of patients and reasons based on cancer type. Especially with cancer’s ‘evolving’, aggressive, resilient nature, it is incumbent to provide more swift and accessible treatment innovations and rapidly certify them for clinical safety. Also hunting for possible new cancer genes such as BRCA genes and whether small genetic variants increases cancer risk to reduce the number of fatalities worldwide and ensure affordability of treatments helps to cater to impoverished regions.

In addition, CR helps to supplement any possible advances in treatment for cancer and expedites process by collating years of slow, methodical, difficult and experimental research using cancer theories by prior scientists and side effects of particular cancer drugs on treatment.

From CR, cancer patients have been cured or their conditions managed palliatively by reducing the pain/fatigue they experience or their cancer conditions managed to prevent further damage to body and thereby improve the quality of patient’s life and cancer survivability. It uses several research methods such as translational research (testing cancer patients in hospitals by using their tissue sample for lab experiments to formulate treatments), clinical trials (assessing prototype cancer treatments by scrutinizing link between cancer and patients behavioral factors (obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption) or substances) and Population-based research (how specific populations of cancer patients in certain regions around world are cancer diagnosed based on socioeconomic data and ethnicity and environmental conditions and access their to cancer care).

CR helps government to implement policies to reduce healthcare impact and prevent spread of cancers by informing public on potential cancer risks and cancer causing agents/infections based on CR (Eg. banning smoking).

CR could help introduce more affordable and accessible treatment and detection using medical equipment especially for developing countries thereby reducing any economic costs associated with the disease for the affected country(s).

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