Cell Biology and Cancer
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Cancer - Costs

The financial costs of cancer can be great, not only for the individual but also for society. The National Cancer Institute estimates overall annual costs for cancer at about $107 billion. This cost includes $37 billion for direct medical costs, $11 billion for morbidity costs (cost of lost productivity), and $59 billion for mortality costs. Interestingly, treatment for breast, lung, and prostrate cancers account for more than one half of the direct medical costs.

Cancer - Definition

two different skin growthsCancer is a group of more than 100 diseases. Although each type of cancer differs from the others in many ways, every cancer is a disease of some of the body's cells.

Healthy cells that make up the body's tissues grow, divide, and replace themselves in an orderly way. This process keeps the body in good repair. Sometimes, however, normal cells lose their ability to limit and direct their growth. They divide too often and grow without any order. Too much tissue is produced, and tumors begin to form.

Tumors can be benign or malignant. Benign tumors are not cancer. They do not spread to other parts of the body and are seldom a threat to life. Often, benign tumors can be removed by surgery, and they are not likely to return.

Malignant tumors are cancer. They can invade and destroy nearby healthy tissues and organs. Cancer cells (such as the cells that make up the skin cancers shown here) also can spread, or metastasize, to other parts of the body and form new tumors.

Cancer Incidence - Caucasian Males

Cancer occurs throughout the world, but the risk of developing cancer varies from region to region. This observation suggests that geographic, environmental, and cultural factors play a role in determining one's risk of developing cancer. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates that more than 8 million Americans alive today have a history of cancer. In fact, cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, exceeded only by heart disease.

NCI tracks the incidence of cancer in the United States (the number of new cases per year per 100,000 people) by the cancer's primary site (where it started), race, sex, age, and year of diagnosis. For example, this graph illustrates the cancer incidence rates for Caucasian males in the United States for several types of cancer from 1987 to 1999.

Cancer continues to be a significant health issue in the United States. However, in March 1998, the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that incidence and death rates for all cancers combined and for most of the major types of cancer declined between 1990 and 1995. This decline reversed an almost 20-year trend of increasing rates and deaths.

Cancer Incidence - Caucasian Males Cancer Incidence - African-American Males
age-adjusted cancer incidence rates in caucasian males age-adjusted cancer incidence rates in African-American males
Cancer Incidence - Caucasian Females Cancer Incidence - African-American Females
age-adjusted cancer incidence rates in caucasian females age-adjusted cancer incidence rates in African American females


Skin Cancer - Australian Experience

man applying sunscreen The incidence of skin cancer is higher in Australia than in any other country, and incidence rates are still rising. In response to this problem, Australian officials adopted a variety of initiatives.

Many of these initiatives focused on public education. For example, the "SunSmart" education program, implemented from 1988 through 1990, significantly increased the use of sunscreen and hats among a test group of more than 4,000 adults. Women, particularly adolescents and young adults, developed positive attitudes about protection and behavior. Similarly, the public service announcement "Slip! Slop! Slap!" (that is, slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, and slap on a hat) raised awareness of skin cancer, especially among outdoor workers. Responding to the need to promote sun-safe attitudes, Australian fashion magazines have started to feature hats and use fewer models with tans.

Other educational programs have emphasized the need for regular self-examination and have encouraged physicians to routinely perform skin examinations on all patients they see.

Community changes have been important components of skin cancer prevention programs in Australia as well. These changes include building awnings and other structures to provide shade wherever possible, rescheduling sports and other outdoor community events away from midday hours to avoid peak ultraviolet-light exposure periods, and reducing taxes on sunscreens.

The Australian government has promoted research on health risks associated with skin cancer. It also has encouraged organizations and communities to establish screening programs to reach individuals who are at particularly high risk for skin cancer.

Skin Cancer - Deaths

people rollerbladingThe American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 9,000 die each year from skin cancer. About 7,000 of these deaths are from melanoma; the other deaths are related to other types of skin cancer.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that from 1973 to 1992, the death rate for melanoma increased 48 percent in U.S. men. And in 1996, the CDC reported that the rate was continuing to rise, despite how easily the disease can be prevented or treated (if detected early). One explanation for this trend is increased recreational exposure to the sun.


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