Cancer is a common human terror. Each year, more than half a million people die from various cancers in the United States alone. Its familiarity, however, does not make it any less frightening.
Cancer takes many forms and affects many parts of the body, but the hallmark of these diseases is uncontrollable cell replication. Tumors expand and spread, ruining bodies and causing death.
The growth happens due to DNA damage. DNA, of course, provides instructions for all bodily functions, including cell growth. That damage may happen because of certain lifestyle factors, such as sun exposure, tobacco smoking or exposure to carcinogenic chemicals.
By some estimates, more than a third of cancers could be prevented by avoiding cancer-causing habits. However, life choices are only part of the equation. Other factors play a role, too. Many people inherit defective DNA from their parents and have a predisposition for developing certain types of cancer, even if they live totally healthy lives.
The myriad variables and unique genetic makeup of humans make some scientists doubt that we'll ever have a cure for every type of cancer. There are just too many environmental assaults and minute bodily malfunctions for any one magic bullet to attack.
The good news is that our perspective and treatment for cancers is evolving. Each year, we understand new aspects of the disease. Therapies keep improving, lessening suffering and adding quality of life. So although we may never fully defeat cancer, we'll keep beating it back, making our lives better, and diagnoses less terrifying.