Thursday, December 14, 2006

Cancer 101 Part 1 - What is Cancer?

As most of you know, in late April of this year I was diagnosed with Metastatic Melanoma (cancer). I don't think I have ever taken the time to fully explain what this disease is, what its symptoms are, and how my treatments fight it. So, I now begin the first of a 3 part series. This post will explain what Metastatic Melanoma is (I hope).

Everybody has skin (some have more of it than others). Melanoma is a form of cancer of the skin. You can get cancer of almost any organ, and your skin is your largest organ. So what is cancer? According to Wikipedia, cancer is the uncontrolled division of cells that has the ability to move throughout your body.

Your body makes new cells by dividing existing cells. When you get cancer somewhere, your cells basically go crazy. They keep dividing and dividing and they don't stop. That is why people develop tumors; uncontrolled cell division creates growth in that type of tissue. For example: Somebody gets liver cancer so their liver cells keep dividing and dividing, creating a lump of liver tissue where there shouldn't be one.

Melanoma is cancer of the skin cells that cause pigmentation (melanocytes). These cells are responsible for the color for your skin. These cells go crazy and won't stop dividing. Since they are dark colored cells, when they form a mass on the skin it looks like a mole.

So, why do people die of extra skin cells? Well, they key is in a process called metastasis. When cancer moves into an area that can transport it somewhere else, it hitches a ride and then implants itself somewhere else. For example: someone has skin cancer and the cancer cells get into the blood. They hitch a ride on the blood all the way to the person's brain. They then implant in the brain and start growing there. The cancer is said to have metastasized.

While a mass of uncontrolled growth on your skin might be annoying, that same mass growing inside your brain can be downright problematic. Without treatment, it can (and probably will) kill you. Once cancer metastasizes, it becomes a very serious situation.

Cancer is broadly characterized by the type of cells that it affects (skin, liver, blood, brain, lung, breast, etc…) and the stage of the cancer. Cancer comes in four stages:
  • Stage I – the cancer is still where it started (in situ). It hasn’t moved or grown much.
  • Stage II and Stage III – these cancers have stared to invade or move. In the case of Melanoma, stage III means the cancer has spread locally to a nearby lymph node.
  • Stage IV – this means that the cancer has spread into the rest of the body (metastasized).

My cancer is stage IV Malignant Melanoma with metastasis on the peritoneum. My primary tumor (where it started) was on my back and was removed surgically 6 years ago. So, my cancer started as crazy cells on my back, that burrowed down to the blood or lymph system. They then used that system to hitch a ride to my gut, where they implanted on my peritoneum.

So that is cancer. The next post will explain how cancer causes problems (symptoms).

Peace and Love.


lilbro77 said...

What a great post. I think it will help your "fans" understand their own risk of developing Melonoma. One thing your post did not mention is skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, with more than a million new cases every year. Here is a link to the types of skin cancer, risk factors, and prevention.

DEATH TO CANCER!!! (it's not just a battle cry, it's a way of life)

Cynthia said...

You are just one very incredible young man! Hats off to you, your courage, your intelligence, perseverance and complete honesty. The lesson your provide on your most recent blog should be in print. When you get done with all this, look for a career in the education field. I think you have a natural born talent for teaching. Aside from all that - WOW, you are one good looking dude. Loved the pic of you and your "Mini Me" son. He really looks like his handsome Daddy! I am Chris Davis' aunt. I live in Independece, MO and have been praying for you for a long, long time. I met you at the wedding shower your folks hosted for Chris and Kelly. God bless you and your family. The best to you in this High and Holy season.