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 “black 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 mid-1980s nearly 6 million
new cancer cases and more than 4 million deaths from cancer were being
reported world-wide each year. The most common fatal form was stomach
cancer (prevalent in Asia), but lung cancer has risen rapidly, because of
the spread of cigarette smoking in developing countries, to become the
leading fatal cancer in the world today.
Also on the increase is the
third-greatest killer, breast cancer, particularly in China and Japan. The
fourth on the list is colon or rectum cancer, a disease that mainly strikes
the elderly. In the United States in the mid-1980s, more than one-fifth of
all deaths were caused by cancer; only the cardiovascular diseases
accounted for a higher percentage. In 1990 the American Cancer Society
predicted that about 30 percent of Americans will eventually develop some
form of the disease.
In the United States skin cancer is the most
prevalent cancer in both men and women. Lung cancer, however, causes the
most deaths in both men and women. LEUKEMIA, or cancer of the blood, is
the most common type seen in children. An increasing incidence of cancer
has been clearly observable over the past few decades, due in part to
improved cancer screening programs, to the increasing number of older
persons in the population, and also to the large number of tobacco
smokers–particularly among women.
Some researchers have estimated that if
Americans stopped smoking cigarettes, lung-cancer deaths could virtually be
eliminated within 20 years.