|Posted on February 18, 2015 at 7:25 PM|
Scared to say the word?
Cancer will affect over 40% of us in our lifetime. You can name three close friends? At least one of you will develop cancer later on in their life. So what are you waiting for, how can this be prevented?
In actual fact scientists have recently said that over two thirds of cancer cases are due to genetic ‘bad luck’. This is as a result of random mutations during cell division which cannot be prevented. As old cells age and tire, they are replaced by new genetically identical ones produced by dividing stem cells, however at each division there may be a dangerous risk of mutation. If this occurs then the cell will continue to divide uncontrollably to form a tumour… which can lead to cancer.
So surely if there is such a large risk each time one of your cells divide (that’s up to 2 million a second!), by senior school we must have had some kind of mutation at some time, somewhere in our body? Well you may well have done. However, these mutations are normally destroyed, either by our own cells literally killing themselves, or by our immune system attacking these now called ‘tumour’ cells as they will have foreign antigens on their cell membranes which are recognised by our white blood cells.
So cancer is basically a disease of our own DNA. It can result simply just from small changes in our genetic code (one letter only) to whole deletions/rearrangements of the letters which make up the triplet codes for amino acids in our bodies. Genes are sections of our DNA containing some of these triplet codes which form polypeptides (proteins) by instructing amino acids to arrange themselves into specific sequences. If our genes become damaged due to an incorrect amount of protein synthesis inside the cell, then a mutation may occur after time. However, most of these are called 'passenger' mutations that do not influence the development of cancer.
On the other hand there are genes which favour cancer (for example, oncogenes encourage cells to multiply) whilst on the other, genes which oppose mutations. For instance, tumour suppressor genes stop cells multiplying and becoming ‘immortal’ as they would if they were cancerous. An example of this would be the gene named ‘p53’, which encourages damaged cells to destroy themselves before they turn cancerous and nasty. Tumour suppressor genes can also be referred to as caretaker genes as they can repair other genes which have been damaged.
But don’t just assume there is nothing that you can do. A third of all cancer cases are down to preventable causes. Would you believe 600 000 cases of cancer could have been avoided in the UK over the last 5 years?
Simple lifestyle choices.
Smoking is a big killer. Not only will it give you bad breath, stained teeth, wrinkles and a potential heart attack, it also causes over 80% of cancer. Why? There are many chemical toxins in tobacco smoke, called carcinogens, which can cause mutations, leading to cancer. In fact it is estimated that on average a smoker experiences a mutation somewhere in their body after every 15 cigarettes they smoke.
Remember the last time you sat on a beach and ignored your mum’s advice to put on some sun cream, which probably resulted in you burning? This is due to the ultraviolet radiation from the sun which has damaged your DNA. This can then lead to mutations. Sun rays are made up of three ultraviolet lights:
• The most abundant, UVA penetrates deep into the skin and causes skin ageing. (That means lots of wrinkles.)
• Next is UVB which is what causes those nasty burns and is also responsible for a lot of cases of non-melanoma skin cancer.
• Lastly, the least common is UVC which is filtered out by the Earth’s ozone layer.
If your DNA continues to be damaged by this UV radiation, it can lead to your cells dividing uncontrollably which leads to skin cancer.
Unfortunately, these risk factors are only a handful from a mountain of which may increase your chance of developing cancer. So in conclusion, scientists cannot predict for certain if you will contract cancer at some point in your lifetime or not. However as well as just relying on ‘touch wood’ everyday, remember you could reduce your chances by a third simply by not picking up your next cigarette, or by wearing a sun hat in the summer. As scientist Cristian Tomasetti says: “if two thirds of cancer incidence across tissues is explained by random DNA mutations that occur when stem cells divide, then changing our lifestyle and habits will be a huge help in preventing certain cancers.”
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