What is dysplasia? Is dysplasia a cancer?

What is dysplasia?

Dysplasia refers to abnormal tissue development. It means that the cells or tissue are abnormal in their growth and organization for the location in which they are found. It does not mean necessarily that they are abnormal to the extent of being malignant, nor does it mean they have formed a tumor. Dysplasia occurs more often in tissues that "turn over" (or reproduce) frequently. Dysplasia may precede the development of some cancers by years or months. Not all dysplasia develops into cancer.

How many cells are in a cancerous tumor? 

The number varies by the size of the tumor and the type of cell. First of all, you should understand that there is considerable variation in the size of cells making up the human body. The most numerous of the body cells are so small that it would take between 700 and 800 cells to cover the head of a pin. A 1-centimeter lump in the breast, which is a little larger than the size of a pea and is about the smallest lump which you can feel with your fingers, contains over a billion cells. This size tumor has undergone about thirty doublings since it first became an abnormal cell.

What is meant by doublings or by doubling time? 

It is believed that cancer cells divide at a steady rate and the tumor steadily increases in size. One cell becomes two, two cells become four, four cells become eight. The body systematically continues the growth in this manner, with the number of cells doubling each time. The average length of time necessary for all the cells in a tumor to divide has been designated as the doubling time. With the passage of one doubling time, the number of cells in the mass is doubled and the weight of the mass is doubled. By the time a lump can be felt in the breast, for example, it has gone through at least thirty generations of doubling in size. The doubling time for breast cancer has been estimated to range from 6 to 540 days, depending upon the kind of cells and their rate of growth. That is why it is important that you see a doctor without delay as soon as you feel a lump.

How are cervical cancer and dysplasia detected and treated?

Is it true that a two step process is necessary for cancer to develop? 

Scientists now believe that most cancer is caused in two steps, by two kinds of agents: initiators and promoters. Initiators start the damage to the cell, damage that can lead to cancer. Cigarette smoking, x-rays, and certain chemicals are considered initiators. Promoters stimulate the development of cancer but usually do not cause cancer. They change the cells already damaged by the initiator from normal cells to cancerous cells. Research has shown that alcohol promotes the development of cancer in the mouth, throat, and possibly liver, when combined with an initiator such as smoking. Alcohol is an example of a classic promoter: It alone does not cause cancer, but it is clearly associated with the development of cancer. Many chemicals in the environment can act as promoters. Phenobarbital, for example, is a strong promoter of cancer in liver cells. Cigarette tars contain not only carcinogens that initiate cells but also promoters that act on lung tissue. Even some mechanical processes, such as abrasions or other wounds, can act as promoters.


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