Cancer 101


Merriam-Webster defines cancer as the following:

cancer | noun | can·cer | \ˈkan(t)-sər\ : a serious disease caused by cells that are not normal and that can spread to one or many parts of the body.

Cancer is a disease where certain cells in the body divide and grow abnormally. These cancer cells become abnormal when its DNA is mutated. Mutations can occur spontaneously for no reason or from exposure to carcinogens — external causes like tobacco or ultraviolet light.

When cancer cells grow and divide, they form tumors. A benign tumor means the cancer is not spreading, and it can be surgically removed. A malignant tumor, in contrast, means the cancerous cells are spreading through the body, commonly through the blood. This creates risk for more tumors to spread throughout the body.

Former Butler basketball player Andrew Smith was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in early 2014. He received a bone marrow transplant, which his body rejected. This means the transplant did not work because his immune system attacked the new material in his body.

The cancer returned a month later. Smith’s wife, Samantha, announced the lymphoma transformed into acute lymphoblastic leukemia. This cancer of the bone marrow and blood is usually referred to as leukemia. More than 6,000 people were diagnosed with leukemia in 2015, according to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

useLymphomia Ribbon

Lymphoma refers to cancer cells in lymph nodes, which are part of the immune system located throughout the body.  Lymph nodes filter out harmful, infection-causing bacteria with the immune cells contained in lymph fluid, according to the American Cancer Society. Leukemia refers to cancer cells in bone marrow.

The American Cancer Society defines non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a cancer that starts in the lymphocytes [part of the body’s immune system]. The definition goes on to explain lymphocytes are found in the lymph nodes and lymph tissue, such as the spleen and bone marrow. This explanation makes the reason behind Smith’s leukemia more clear; leukemia, as described by the Mayo Clinic, is a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues, including the bone marrow and the lymphatic system.

Once someone are diagnosed with leukemia, it is best to start chemotherapy as soon as possible, according to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. During chemotherapy, patients are given drugs potent enough to kill leukemic cells, but the strong drugs can also attack healthy cells.

If chemotherapy does not work, patients can try experimental treatments or in the case of leukemia, a bone marrow transplant. For more information, read the the article “All about bone marrow.