Approved by Hunter Patton-Gentert, PharmD
Cancer, a disease that can manifest in virtually any part of the human body, holds a daunting position as the second leading cause of death in the United States, only surpassed by heart disease. The CDC reports a staggering number of over 600,000 people losing their battle to this disease annually, with many more still fighting against it.
With over 200 distinct types of cancers identified, it’s essential to categorize them for better understanding, treatment, and research. Broadly, these can be grouped into five primary types that encompass the most common types in the region.
In this article, we aim to provide an in-depth overview of these categories, highlighting their origins, characteristics, and the innovative research conducted.
Five Types of Cancer
Cancer, in its many forms, is a manifestation of cells gone awry, multiplying uncontrollably and often forming tumors. The vast landscape of cancer types is organized based on where they first take root in the human body. While each type presents its unique set of challenges, they all show the intricate relation to biology, genetics, and environment.
Here’s a closer look at the primary types we explore in this article:
- Carcinoma: Originating from skin or tissue cells that cover internal organs and glands. Carcinoma is the most common type of cancer and it accounts for 80-90% of all cancer diagnoses.
- Sarcoma: This is a type of cancer that affects the connective tissues such as bones, muscles, cartilage, and blood vessels.
- Leukemia: It originates in bone marrow, spreads to the blood, and affects blood cells.
- Lymphoma and Myeloma: Affect the cells of the immune system and directly impact the balance of our body’s defense mechanisms. Lymphomas affect immune cells called lymphocytes and are found in the lymphatic system. Myelomas affect specific immune cells called plasma cells which are responsible for making antibodies.
- Brain and Spinal Cord Cancers: A type of cancer that originates in our central nervous system.
The diversity in cancer types also means a variety of treatment approaches, each tailored to combat the specific cellular anomalies of a particular cancer.
Carcinoma: The Most Common Cancer Type
Carcinoma, a term many might have come across, is the most prevalent type of cancer, and it has its roots in the skin or tissues that line the internal organs of our body. This category encompasses several well-known conditions, including breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, and colorectal cancer. But what makes carcinomas so common?
The human body’s epithelial cells, which form the skin and the lining of organs, are the primary sites for carcinoma development. When these cells undergo abnormal growth, they can lead to tumors, which might be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). The malignant tumors are what we commonly refer to as carcinomas.
We keep investing in research, support, and awareness, as we believe that we can provide better and more successful treatment for patients suffering from carcinoma while contributing to reducing cancer risk.
Sarcoma: Cancers of the Bone and Soft Tissues
Originating in bones and soft tissues — which include muscles, tendons, fat, blood vessels, and other connective tissues — these cancers arise from mesenchymal cells that later differentiate into various tissue types.
The vast diversity of sarcomas, with over 80 subtypes, highlights the challenges we face when diagnosing and treating them. This vast range of subtypes means that each patient’s experience with sarcoma can differ significantly, needing a personalized approach to treatment in each case.
In our ongoing mission to ensure every cancer patient has the best opportunity for recovery, sarcomas, in all their complexity, spotlight the urgent need for advancements in treatment. At Gateway for Cancer Research, our research initiatives aim to provide tangible solutions by exploring the genetic markers and pathways of both common and rare sarcoma subtypes, offering innovative treatment options tailored to each patient’s unique needs.
Leukemia: Blood-forming Tissue Cancers
At its core, leukemia is characterized by the rapid and uncontrolled proliferation of blood cells, which can crowd out healthy blood cells, leading to severe health complications.
The disease manifests in various subtypes, each with its own set of complications and prognosis. Lymphoblastic leukemias affect blood cells called lymphocytes known as T-cells, B-cells, and NK cells. Myeloid leukemias affect other white blood cells excluding those listed above and in rare cases, red blood cells or platelet cells. These subtypes not only differ in their cellular origin but also in their progression rate and response to treatments.
The whole medical community believes that researching this disease at its molecular level is the key to finding more effective and less toxic treatments, bringing hope to thousands of patients and their families.
Lymphoma and Myeloma: Cancers of the Immune System
Lymphomas stand as prime examples of how the immune system, our body’s primary defense mechanism, can paradoxically become a battleground for certain cancers.
Lymphoma arises from lymphocytes, essential white blood cells in our immune response, and it’s divided into two primary groups:
- Hodgkin Lymphoma: Characterized by the presence of Reed-Sternberg cells, this type has specific subtypes based on the cells involved.
- Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma: A more diverse group, it encompasses a wide range of lymphatic cancers not defined as Hodgkin lymphoma.
On the other hand, myeloma, or multiple myeloma, is a cancer of plasma cells. These cells are responsible for producing antibodies, and when they become cancerous, they can cause a range of complications, from kidney problems to weakened bones.
The challenge with myeloma lies in its ability to affect multiple areas of the body, making early detection and targeted treatment crucial.
Brain and Spinal Cord Cancers: The Central Nervous System’s Challenge
The central nervous system, comprising the brain and spinal cord, is the epicenter of our body’s functionality. When cancer strikes this region, it doesn’t just challenge our physical well-being but also our cognitive and emotional capacities.
These types of cancers are particularly challenging due to their location and the critical functions these organs serve. These cancers can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous), but even benign tumors can cause severe complications due to their size or location.
Originating from various cell types, such as glial cells, meninges, or nerve cells, brain cancers can manifest in different regions of the brain, affecting functions ranging from movement to memory. The complexities of the brain’s structure mean that even benign tumors can have profound effects, disrupting neural pathways and causing symptoms that can drastically reduce the quality of life.
Additionally, the brain’s intricate network of blood vessels and protective barriers presents unique challenges for treatment delivery. Ensuring that therapeutic agents effectively reach tumor sites without harming healthy brain tissue is a focal point of ongoing research.
Spinal Cord Cancers
The American Cancer Society estimates that about 24,810 malignant tumors of the brain or spinal cord will be diagnosed this year, and sadly about 18,990 people will die because of them.
Though rarer than brain cancers, spinal cord tumors are no less challenging, bringing a high mortality rate due to the complications they arise. They can lead to loss of motor functions, sensory disruptions, and other neurological complications that are often hard to treat.
Recent research aims to enhance surgical outcomes and develop targeted therapies that promise better patient outcomes.
How We Contribute to Cancer Research
At Gateway for Cancer Research, our mission goes beyond understanding types of cancer. We are dedicated to improving patient outcomes, enhancing their quality of life, and ensuring that every individual has access to the best possible care. Our research initiatives span the entire spectrum of cancer types, focusing on innovative treatments, patient-centric approaches, and holistic care.
As we conclude this overview of the different cancers, we urge everyone to stay informed, proactive, and vigilant. If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms that might indicate cancer, please consult with a healthcare professional.
With your support, we can continue to make strides in cancer research and bring hope to those affected by this disease. Consider donating to our cause to better understand these diseases and help patients throughout their personalized treatments.
Living Better with Cancer