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A Look Inside Cancer

Publication: Healthy Magazine, McAllen

“I don’t smoke. How can I have lung cancer?”

That’s a fair, if obvious, question, and one that could be asked by millions of cancer patients who got sick, ostensibly “through no fault of their own.”

The frustrating truth about cancer is that, by definition, the disease’s origins are all about abnormal, and mostly uncontrollable, biological activity. While some cancers have a major risk factor to blame, such as tobacco use, many have no explanation, no answer to the question: “Why is my body working against me?” Research and accepted medical science have shown that a host of risk factors and lifestyle choices can make cancer more likely to occur, and conversely, that prevention works. But at its core, cancer comes from genetic mutations that cannot be fully predicted.

As ridiculous as it may seem today, in years past, some thought that a cancer diagnosis was the fault of the patient—the result of negative thinking or a “cancer personality.” The steady march forward of medical science in understanding the true origins of cancer has debunked these myths. We now know that cancer happens when the natural cycle of cell growth, division and replacement goes awry.

Normally, cells and DNA strands that make up each person’s body constantly grow and divide in a controlled way to keep the body healthy. Millions of cells and DNA strands replicate millions of times over a person’s lifetime. Sometimes the DNA—the cell’s genetic material—becomes damaged or changed, producing mutations that cause cells to replicate uncontrollably and not die, leading to malignant, or cancerous, tumors. Cancerous tumor cells can “cloak” themselves to hide from the immune system, which is why the immune system does not attack cancer cells. If cancer cells spread to another part of the body, it is called metastasis.

Physicians often treat tumors with a combination of surgery (to remove the cancerous tumor), chemotherapy (medications) and radiation therapy, with the goal of eliminating the cancer, helping ensure that it does not return and maintaining patients’ quality of life. All three types of treatment are continually evolving and improving. The chemotherapy, surgery and radiation of today are far more sophisticated than they were 50, or in some cases five, years ago.

Texas Oncology’s surgical specialists use leading-edge techniques, such as robotic and minimally invasive surgery, to preserve as much of a patient’s healthy tissue as possible. Texas Oncology’s radiation oncologists use treatments such as Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy, brachytherapy and, starting in 2016, proton therapy. Greater precision in radiation therapy means more sharply focusing on the cancerous tissue and reducing the impact on healthy tissue. In treatments and clinical trials across the state, Texas Oncology’s medical oncologists also focus on preserving healthy cells by using targeted chemotherapies that kill cancer cells, with fewer side effects.

Cancer does not discriminate: everyone has cells that replicate and there is no way to completely predict or prevent a cell mutation that becomes cancer. But we can fight back—vigorously. Texas Oncology stands ready to join with patients and their families and friends to deliver compassionate care and advanced treatment with the support needed to endure the fight against cancer.

This story originally appeared in Healthy Magazine. To view this story, please click here.

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