Cancer is a disease that causes abnormal cells to reproduce and spread to other parts of the body, which can result in tumors or damage to the immune system that may become fatal.

Healthy cells follow a cycle of growing, dividing, and dying. Cancer cells do not follow this same cycle due to abnormalities that cause them to multiply uncontrollably.

In this article, we will look at the differences between healthy and cancerous cells and explore the question of whether cancer cells are always present. We will also discuss how cells become malignant and ways to prevent cancer.

cancer cells collageShare on Pinterest
Design by MNT; Photography by Johner Images/Getty Images & Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Cancer cells do not exist in the body for everyone. The human body is constantly in a cycle where new cells grow, divide, and die in a controlled manner, a process known as apoptosis.

Usually, cells with damaged DNA either fix themselves or die naturally. Cancer becomes a possibility when neither of these things occurs.

Learn more about cancer.

The human body consists of around 50–100 trillion cells, which come in various types, each with its own function. Depending on their type, cells ensure that the body operates smoothly.

For example, red blood cells transport oxygen, muscle cells facilitate movement, and nerve cells transmit signals. These specialized functions are essential for the survival and functioning of the human body.

Learn more about cells.

Normal cells grow, divide, and die in a cycle. When a cell becomes damaged or old, a new, healthy cell replaces it. Normal cells are highly organized and communicate with neighboring cells to maintain tissue structure and function.

In contrast, cancer cells are rogue cells that have undergone genetic mutations, leading to uncontrolled growth and division. They escape the body’s control system and do not die when they should, potentially resulting in the formation of a mass or tumor, which can interfere with the typical functioning of nearby tissues and organs.

Benign vs. malignant cells

Not all cells that overproduce and form tumors are cancerous, also known as benign cells. Benign tumors consist of cells that do not invade nearby tissues or spread to other parts of the body. While benign tumors can sometimes cause health problems depending on their location, they are not cancerous.

On the other hand, cancerous tumors, also known as malignant tumors, consist of malignant cells that can invade surrounding tissues and potentially spread to other parts of the body through a process called metastasis. This ability to metastasize distinguishes cancer from benign growths and is potentially life threatening.

If a person detects a lump or a tumor, it is important to consult a healthcare professional. Early detection may reduce the risks associated with cancer.

Learn more about tumors.

The process of benign cells becoming malignant involves many factors, including genetics, environmental factors, and lifestyle choices.

Some people might have inherited genes that make them more likely to get cancer, but being exposed to harmful chemicals or radiation, some infections, and certain lifestyle choices, such as smoking or dietary choices, may also play a role.

As time goes on, changes can happen in a person’s genes that change the way cells grow and divide normally. This can lead to cells growing out of control and becoming malignant.

While it may not be possible to remove all risk factors to prevent cancer, there are several proactive measures individuals can take to lower their likelihood of developing cancer:

  1. Healthy lifestyle choices: The adoption of a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet, regular physical activity, and avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, may substantially reduce the risk of cancer.
  2. Screening and early detection: Routine cancer screenings, such as a mammogram and colonoscopy, can detect cancer at its earlier, more treatable stages. Early detection significantly enhances the likelihood of successful treatment and recovery.
  3. Vaccination: Some infections may lead to cancer, such as the human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis B (HBV). Vaccination against these infections can substantially reduce the risk of associated cancers.
  4. Sun protection: Safeguarding the skin from excessive sun exposure and utilizing sunscreen can lower the risk of skin cancer.
  5. Environmental awareness: Minimizing exposure to environmental carcinogens, such as asbestos and radon, can lower the risk of certain cancers.
  6. Family history and genetic testing: Familiarizing oneself with a family’s cancer history and, when warranted, undergoing genetic testing may provide invaluable insights into cancer risk factors for an individual.

Not everyone has cancer cells in their body, but they can develop due to genetic factors, exposure to certain toxins and environments, and lifestyle choices. The body has a natural ability to control and eliminate damaged cells before they become cancerous, but knowing the difference between benign and malignant growths or tumors is crucial.

Not all tumors are cancerous, and benign tumors will not spread to other parts of the body. However, it is important to have checkups with a doctor if any signs or symptoms of cancer are detected.

To lower the risk of cancer, it is essential to get regular checkups, make healthy lifestyle choices, get vaccinated against certain infections, and be aware of environmental causes of cancer.

While it is not possible to completely eliminate the risk of cancer, understanding how cells work and how cancer develops and taking steps to prevent it can give a person more control over their health.