Cancer (definition of)
The technical name for this disease is malignant neoplasm. The word "cancer" is from the Latin word for crab; for centuries, cancer was in fact known as the "Crab Sickness." This description comes from Hippocrates, who noted that a cross section of certain tumors in fact bore a remarkable resemblance to the sea creature that in Greek was known as the karkinós (from which we get the word "carcinogen").
Cancer has been around almost as long as life itself; paleontologists have discovered signs of bone cancer in dinosaur fossils dating back 100 million years. As industry continues to spew toxins into the environment however, this formerly rare disease has become increasingly common.
Although the risk of contracting cancer, like mesothelioma, increases with age (and some research suggests that virtually everyone would develop the disease if they lived long enough), the fact is that cancer can strike at any age - even in the womb.
Cancer itself is a contradiction of sorts. On one hand, it represents a form of immortality; on the other hand, it is invariably fatal to its host if untreated. All healthy cells in the body die off after a time; the mechanism that causes them to die is known as apoptosis. Occasionally however - due to heredity, exposure to toxins, an infectious agent or some combination of the three - this killing mechanism gets "switched off." For some reason that is still not entirely clear to medical science, these cells continue to multiply, and would do so indefinitely if they did not affect the internal organs in such a way that causes the host body which nourishes cancer cells to stop functioning.
Part of what makes cancer so difficult to treat is the fact that unlike other diseases, it is not an endogamous, or "foreign" pathogen such as a bacteria or virus. It is nothing more than indigenous cells that have gone haywire. Although attempts are being made to "train" the body's immune system to recognize cancer as a foreign pathogen, current treatments rely on surgical removal (when possible), supplemented by toxic treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy. Recent research is focusing on specific treatments for various forms of cancer; new treatments currently being explored include methods of cutting off the blood supply, thereby starving the tumor, oxygen therapy, and photodynamic treatment (PDT), which uses light to destroy malignant tissue.