Sophia's Blog

Sophia's Blog

TIL Why is cancer often “delayed”?

I recently watched this video and realized that cancer tends to manifest well after exposure to certain substances. This is true with many things, such as smoking, drug use, sunburns, etc. My understanding is that cancer is a mutation of cells often caused by an outside source such as chemicals or radiation. In this woman’s case, shouldn’t cancer has manifested shortly after exposure to burn pits? Why did it take so long, and why does this often seem to be the case regardless of the initial cause?

The details will depend on the type of it and exposure, but the very general answer is that cancer requires multiple “hits”, or damages/alterations to DNA, to occur. The initial exposure is just one “hit”, and then repeated exposures, or just spontaneous mutations accumulating slowly over time, are needed to develop cancer.

This is a simplified view (I don’t know the details either), but the transition from normal to cancerous flesh has several steps and takes time. Several biological capabilities are acquired Nor is it inevitable: some heavy smokers live for an annoyingly long time. (Annoying to me, not them.) Why? Our cells have several layers of defense against cancer built into them, and if even one of those layers holds, cancer can be suppressed.

DNA for Cell replication is happening all the time, and mutations are pretty normal. There are actually a bunch of different kinds of mutations, most of them are relatively harmless. But when you get damaged DNA via viruses, radiation, burns, etc. It greatly increases the chances of more mutations happening as cells replicate, thus increasing the chances massively of one of the mutations leading to cancer cuz there’s so many more happening… at least that’s how I understand it. Replication still needs to happen and will happen, but stuff like large exposure to radiation makes cancer pretty much guaranteed at some point cuz of the damaged DNA.

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