Word of the Week, 11/14 – 11/19/11 — metastasis

Metastasis: 1. The process by which cancer spreads from the place at which it first arose as a primary tumor to distant locations in the body.
2. The cancer resulting from the spread of the primary tumor. For example, someone with melanoma may have a metastasis in their brain. And a person with colon cancer may, fortunately, show no metastases.

Metastasis depends on the cancer cells acquiring two separate abilities — increased motility and invasiveness. Cells that metastasize are basically of the same kind as those in the original tumor. If a cancer arises in the lung and metastasizes to the liver, the cancer cells in the liver are lung cancer cells. However, the cells have acquired increased motility and the ability to invade another organ.

The ancient Greeks used the word metastasis to mean “removal from one place to another.” The plural of “metastasis” is “metastases.”

Definition of Metastasis, MedicineNet.com

Perhaps motivated by the recent National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Hockey Fights Cancer and Movember movements, the word of the week is metastasis.

The story of cancer is estimated to be as old as humans; the history of cancer is confirmed to be as old as the Egyptians, who documented its existence in, most famously, the Edwin Smith Papyrus.  The document identified eight types of tumors of the breast and acknowledged no treatment for the condition.  It is Hippocrates (460-370 BCE), the “Father of Medicine,” who gave us the words carcinos and carcinoma, which the Roman physician Celsus (28-50 BCE) translated into cancer, the Latin word for “crab.”  The Roman physician Galen (130-200, CE) used the Greek word for swelling, oncos, to describe the tumor, thus giving us the study of cancer as oncology.  (“History of Cancer from Medicineworld.org” and American Cancer Society’s “The History of Cancer”)

It is interesting to note that the medical terms for cancer are of Greek and Latin origin–like so many other medical terms–but are, more uniquely, contemporary with the Greeks and Romans.  Metastasis is also of classical origin, meaning “a removing, removal.”  (Greek-English Dictionary, Liddell and Scott–the “Middle Liddell”)  In this case, however, it does not mean the removal of kakou–something bad, like cancer, for example–it means the appearance of the cancer cells in a new place in the body.

Stephen Paget, an English surgeon, first hypothesized that the spread of cancer, metastasis, was achieved because cancer cells spread through the body via blood cells, one hundred years before cellular and molecular biology could prove it accurate.  His hypothesis compared the metastasis of cancer cells to the spread of plant seeds, more of which are dispersed than take root, believing that only certain organs would prove fertile for the mutated cancerous cells.

This understanding of metastasis became a key element in recognizing the limitations of cancer surgery.  It eventually allowed doctors to develop systemic treatments used after surgery to destroy cells that had spread throughout the body and use less mutilating operations in treating many types of cancer.  Today these systemic treatments may also be used before surgery.

~ American Cancer Society, “A History of Cancer”

It is the biological process of metastasis, that necessitates early detection and quick response.  Thanks to a better awareness of cancer prevention, advanced medical procedures for early detection, and more sophisticated, targeted treatments, survivorship has dramatically increased.  In the United States alone, there are over 11 million cancer survivors, but the rate still falls well short of 100%.  Today, survivors and loved ones are the strongest, loudest advocates for early detection and fundraising for cancer research.

This post is dedicate to DARYL COLLETTE (survivor), LORI COLLETTE (co-survivor), KRISTA HEUBUSCH (advocate), SHAWN GARDNER (co-survivor, advocate), CHRIS BARRON (advocate).  

 And in memory of LEXI REEVES and HEATHER GARDNER.

Learn more about early detection of cancer by following this link to the American Cancer Society: Cancer Screening Guidelines, Early Detection of Cancer.

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Filed under Historian's Journal, Word of the Week

2 responses to “Word of the Week, 11/14 – 11/19/11 — metastasis

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