Ask A Scientist

How does cancer start?

Asked by: Jacob King
School: African Road Elementary School
Grade: 4
Teacher: Miss Weisbrod
Hobbies/Interests: Soccer, math, science and video games
Career Interest: Priest or a teacher

Answer from Rita Bergevin MA, RN, BC

Clinical assistant professor, Binghamton Universit

Research area:
Board certified in Geriatrics.

Education:
New York University, Masters in Nursing, Kings County Hospital School of Nursing

Interests/hobbies:
Palliative care and oncology, Holistic health.

Family:
Husband, Patrick Bergevin MD, sons Andrew 20 and Dennis 17.

Cancer usually starts as a single cell. In some cases cancer cells travel about, causing multiple cancer sites in the body at the same time. It usually takes years before the cancer can be detected - before a lump is felt or a health practitioner can see it on an X-ray or MRI. A cancer cell differs from a normal cell in that the cancer cell has lost a number of vital control systems. In some cases, some of the genes in the cell have been damaged or lost, a process called mutation. In other cases, a carcinogen such as tobacco smoke causes changes in normal cells that cause them to be cancerous. Dietary factors, viruses, age and defects in the immune system are also causes. You could have a genetic predisposition to some cancers, meaning they often run in some families. Cancers such as colon cancer and breast cancer often run in families. It is important to remember that having a family history of cancer does not mean you will have it develop, but it does mean you are at higher risk. In many instances we can prevent cancer from starting if we take appropriate steps to be vigilant with our health. There are many institutions such as the American Cancer Society (ACS) devoted to cancer research. By funding groundbreaking research, the ACS has contributed to many important discoveries that have led to a better understanding of cancer and cancer treatment. This weekend the Binghamton University basketball teams and the American Cancer Society will join forces to fight cancer with Coaches vs. Cancer weekend. At both the women's game at 1 p.m. Saturday, and the men's game at 1 p.m. Sunday, there will be several fundraisers designed to raise money for the American Cancer Society. Coaches vs. Cancer provides critical mission outreach, while raising funds in support of the Society's lifesaving cancer research, education, advocacy, and community service efforts.

Last Updated: 9/18/13