What is cancer?
Cancer is a group of diseases characterized by uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells. In the human body normal cells grow, divide and die in an orderly process. Cancer cells outlive normal cells and continue to grow and make new abnormal cells.
Cancer cells will often clump together and form tumors. These tumors can invade and destroy normal cells and tissues. Tumors can be malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous). Benign tumors do not usually spread to other parts of the body and are not usually life-threatening.
Some cancers such as leukemia do not form tumors but invade the blood and blood-forming organs. Cancer cells can travel (metastasize) through the blood or the lymph system to other areas of the body where they can settle and form new tumors.
In many cases the exact cause of cancer is not known. We know certain changes in our cells can cause cancer to start but we don't yet know exactly how, why and when this happens. However, there are a lot of things we do know about cancer.
Who gets cancer?
The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that 67,150 new cases of invasive cancer will be diagnosed and 25,440 cancer deaths will occur in Ohio in 2019.
Cancer may strike at any age. However, cancer is mostly a disease of middle and older aged individuals. In Ohio, about 88 percent of all cancers were diagnosed among people age 50 and older in 2016.
Cancer is not a rare disease: Although some forms of cancer are rare, cancer in general is much more common than most people realize.
Cancer is not one disease, but many: Science has identified more than 100 different kinds of cancer, many of which have different and often unknown, causes and risk factors. Lung cancer is very different than colon cancer, which is different than liver cancer, etc.
Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the United States. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), it is estimated that 40 percent of all men and 39 percent of all women in the United States are at risk of developing cancer in his or her lifetime, based on 2014-2016 data.
What are the risk factors for cancer?
A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of getting a disease. Some risk factors such as tobacco use can be changed. Other risk factor such as age cannot be changed.
Having a risk factor for cancer means a person is more likely to develop the disease at some point in his or her life. However, having one or more risk factors does not always mean a person will get cancer. Some people with one or more risk factors never develop the disease, while other people who develop cancer have no apparent risk factors. Even when a person who has a risk factor is diagnosed with cancer, there is no way to prove the risk factor actually caused the cancer. In reality, getting cancer is most likely due to a combination of multiple risk factors rather than one single factor. In addition, the time period between exposure to a risk factor and development of cancer could be years to decades. Therefore, cancers diagnosed today are likely associated with risk factors that were present many years ago and may no longer exist.
Risk factors for cancer include a person’s age, sex and family medical history (genetics). Other major risk factors are related to lifestyle choices such as using tobacco, drinking a lot of alcohol, eating a poor diet, not getting enough physical activity and having unprotected exposure to the sun. In fact, tobacco use, poor diet, obesity and lack of physical activity are associated with about 65 percent of cancer deaths. Cancer risk factors also include occupational (work) exposures to cancer-causing chemicals, certain viruses and bacteria, certain hormones and ionizing radiation.
The risk of developing most types of cancer can be reduced through lifestyle changes. By quitting smoking, eating healthier and exercising, you can reduce your risk of developing cancer.
What are cancer clusters?
Cancer clusters may be suspected when people learn about multiple family members, friends, neighbors or coworkers who have been diagnosed with or died from cancer. Unfortunately, about four out of 10 men and women in the United States will develop cancer during their lifetime. Therefore, it is not unusual to see multiple cases of cancer in a community or workplace.
The term “cancer cluster” is used in a number of ways with slightly different meanings. The official definition used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NCI, and the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) is the following:
"A cancer cluster is a greater than expected number of cancer cases that occurs within a group of people in a geographic area over a defined period of time.”
A “true” cancer cluster often involves multiple cases of one type of cancer or related cancers; unusual types of cancer in a particular population; an unusual geographic or time distribution; and/or a known exposure pathway to a cancer-causing agent. Cancer clusters are often not the result of environmental pollution. In fact, clusters most often occur due to shared behaviors and lifestyle factors such as high rates of tobacco use; lack of access to preventive health care; increased rates of screening (which may identify previously undiagnosed cases); low socioeconomic status; and chance, among other reasons.
How do I report a suspected cancer cluster?
Suspected cancer clusters may be reported by contacting the local county/city health department in the area of concern. To see a listing of the local public health departments closest to your home, visit Ohio’s Health Department Profile and Performance Database at: https://odhgateway.odh.ohio.gov/lhdinformationsystem/Directory/GetMyLHD. Cancer concerns may also be reported by completing the Ohio Community Cancer Concerns Reporting Form. Please allow 5-10 business days for someone to contact you to obtain additional information.
Where can I find additional information?
- NCI: http://www.cancer.gov
- NCI Clinical Trials: http://www.cancer.gov/clinicaltrials
- ACS: http://www.cancer.org
- ACS Support and Treatment Resources: http://www.cancer.org/treatment/supportprogramsservices/app/resource-search