Defining cancer is a difficult task, even for cancer researchers. It is much easier to explain the term in relation to its causes.
Today, we know that the cells of a tumour derive from an original cell which at some point in time – deviated from the normal, controlled division process – generally decades before a lump becomes physically or visibly noticeable. Every life begins as a single cell. This cell divides and multiplies itself to create new specialised cells. Normal, specialised cells are compatible with each other and function harmoniously together. They group together to create tissues which form the various organs.
Cancer develops when normal cells change – often during various intermediate steps – into malignant cells that start to divide uncontrollably. When the body’s defence mechanism is not able to destroy them, more and more diseased cells are created to form a localised growth (tumour). The surrounding tissue is subsequently also affected (infiltration). Cancer cells can travel via the lymphatic and circulatory systems to reach other parts of the body, where they then create new cancer growths (metastases). In the case of leukaemia and certain lymphatic cancers, the cancer cells distribute themselves rapidly throughout the entire body.
Cancer is the collective term for around 150 different types of malignant organ tumours and diseases of the hematopoietic and lymphatic systems.
After cardiovascular and circulatory disorders, cancer the second most common cause of death in Switzerland. A cancer diagnosis, however, is not a death sentence. Over 30,000 people are diagnosed with cancer each year and around half of them are able to be cured. The chances of recovery are much better if the cancer remains localised, compared to when metastases have already formed. That’s why early detection and timely treatment are of the utmost importance.