Cancer is one of the most complicated illness that has ever existed.
Our bodies are made of tiny little building blocks called cells. All of the tissues in our body (including our blood, brain, eye) are made up of billions of these cells.
From the time of birth all of these cells follow a specific program that is encoded in them by their DNA. This includes programs about how big the cell should become, how many times it should divide (make identical copies of itself) and where it can travel to in the body. The cell’s DNA contains approximately 21000 genes and each of these genes can modify the behaviour of the cell to a certain extent. What smore, each gene is made of up thousands of nucleic acid molecules (A-C-T-G nomenclature in the diagram) and even a single change in 1 of these nucleic acid molecules can alter the function of that gene and therefore can alter the behaviour of the cell.
Cancer occurs when one or multiple cells no longer follows the normal pre-set program because of an important change in one or several of the cells genes. When this occurs the cell stops following the pre-set program and it starts growing larger than usual and it starts dividing more often than it should and even travelling to other parts of the body it should not be allowed to go – referred to as metastasis. In addition, during the process of the cancer cell making more of itself (cancer cell division), each of its offspring can also be slightly different from the “mother cell” (genetically speaking) resulting in the daughter cancer cells themselves behaving differently from the original mother cancer cell too!
What causes the alterations in the genes that leads to cancer? This is a complex question that is not fully understood but exposure to carcinogens such as cigarette smoke and UV radiation along with exposure to other carcinogens can alter the genes in such a way as to promote the development of a cancer cell. Some cancer pre-disposing genes can also be inherited which is why genetics is playing an ever increasing role in assessing someone’s cancer risk.
What is even more crazy is that although the normal functioning milk truck can make an identical copy of itself (including the positions of the levers - when it is a healthy milk truck), when it is in a cancer state the milk truck produces different levers in different settings...so each of these milk trucks that arise from the cancer milk truck have different programs from one another and all of them behave inappropriately.
Why do these lever settings (DNA) change to begin with? This is a complex question that is still not fully understood. Some changes occur because of problems in the DNA itself that occur with aging, also exposure to carcinogens, such as tobacco, can cause levers to change and cause a cancer.