10 interesting facts about cancer you may not know.

1. The word ‘cancer’ comes from the Latin for ‘crab’ – just like the zodiac sign

Early doctors, when describing tumors which had veins or extensions from the main body, called them crab-like, or ‘cancerous’.

2. Cancer was first described by the ancient Egyptians

The earliest description of cancer was found in the Edwin Smith papyrus dating back to 1600 B.C.  The document describes breast tumors removed by a tool called the fire drill.  The fire drill, or bow drill, was a spindle with a winding of string attached to a ‘bow’, which was held and moved perpendicularly to the spindle to generate the drilling motion.  Usually, the spindle was heated prior to the procedure.  The procedure was without much success.

3. There are more skin cancer diagnoses connected to indoor tanning than lung cancer due to smoking

A 2014 study, “International Prevalence of Indoor Tanning – A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis”, found that in the U.S. alone, 419,254 cases of skin cancer could be attributed to indoor tanning, out of which 6,199 were melanoma cases, compared to 360,000 lung cancer diagnoses attributable to smoking.

4. Between 30-50% of cancers are preventable

According to the World Health Organization, 30-50% of cancer cases are preventable.  Many cancers can be attributed to factors within our control, such as tobacco use, obesity, infections, and environmental pollution.

5. There are more than 200 types of cancer

Cancer is not one disease.  Cancers are often classified according to where they start in the body, such as breast or lung cancer, as well as to the type of cell they start in.

As a result, treatments have shifted away from the one-size-fits-all approach to ‘tailored, targeted therapies’, which in turn have improved outcomes and reduced mortality rates.

6. There are several mammal species immune to cancer

Researchers have identified several mammals that display cancer resistance, including whales, elephants and subterranean long-lived mammals such as the naked mole rat and blind mole rat.

7. There are more than 32 million cancer survivors worldwide

According to studies, there are more than 18 million cancer survivors in the U.S. and 32 million survivors worldwide.  These number are expected to grow due to improvements in cancer screening, increases in life expectancy following definitive cancer treatment and the aging of the population.

8. Up to 10% of all cancers are hereditary

Though cancer itself or genetic changes in tumor cells can’t be passed down from parents to children, genetic changes that can increase the risk of cancer can be passed down. That’s why cancer sometimes appears to run in families. Up to 10% of all cancers may be caused by inherited genetic changes. Most cancers develop through a combination of hereditary and environmental factors, including smoking, alcohol, obesity and diet.

9. Breast cancer is more prevalent in the left breast than the right

Breast cancer occurs more frequently in the left breast than the right, in fact, 5-10% more likely than the right. According to a 2022 study, 881,320 breast cancer patient survival outcomes and clinical characteristics were analyzed, yet nothing in the data suggest differentiations between the patients with a the higher incidence of breast cancers on the left than the right.  No one knows why.

10. Cancer survival rates have increased significantly

According to the American Cancer Society, cancer survival rates for all cancers combined has increased substantially since the early 1960s, from 39% to 70% in whites and from 27% to 63% among blacks. Increased and improved screenings for early detection and tailored, targeted therapies are major contributing factors to the profound increase in survival rates.  

October 1, 2022

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