Sunday, May 25, 2008


In modern society cancer is the disease most feared by the majority of people throughout the world, supplanting the "white death" or tuberculosis, of the last century; the "back death," or bubonic plague, of the middle Ages; and the leprosy of biblical times. Cancer has been known and described throughout history, although its greater prevalence today is undoubtedly due to the conquest by medical science of most infectious diseases and to the increased life span of humans.

The study of cancer is known as the field of oncology. In the early 1990s nearly 6 million new cancer cases and more than 4 million deaths from cancer were being reported worldwide each year. The leading fatal cancer in the world is lung cancer, which has risen rapidly because of the spread of cigarette smoking in developing countries. Stomach cancer, prevalent in Asia, is the second most fatal form of cancer in men, after lung cancer. Also on the increase is the leading killer of women, breast cancer. The fourth on the list is colon or rectum cancer, a disease that mainly strikes the elderly. In the United States in the early 1990s more than one-fifth of all deaths were caused by cancer; only cardiovascular diseases accounted for a higher percentage.

In 1993 the American Cancer Society predicted that about 33 percent of Americans will eventually develop some form of the disease. Skin cancer is the most prevalent cancer in both men and women, followed by prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women. Lung cancer, however, causes the most deaths in both men and women. Leukemia, cancer of the blood, is the most common type seen in children. An increasing incidence of cancer has been observed over the past few decades, due to improved cancer screening programs, to the increasing age of the population, and also to the large number of tobacco smokers, particularly women. In 1990 care and treatment of cancer patients in the United States cost more than $40 billion annually. The U.S. government was spending at least $2 billion each year for cancer research by the mild 1990s. Because of the marked improvement in the types of drugs available cancer patients under 30 years of age is decreasing, even though the number of deaths from cancer is increasing in the population as a whole.

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