Truly Dreadful Things Cancer Does to Your Body

Cancer is one of the most common health conditions in the United States — and one of the deadliest. There are over 200 types, each with different signs, symptoms, and treatment options.

Sometimes, cancer treatments cause devastating side effects. But cancer itself starts damaging you from the inside out long before you realize it. Here’s what’s really going on.

Your DNA mutates

dna strand

You probably didn’t know that cancer mutates your DNA. |

Deep inside your cells, your DNA contains vital genetic information that tells those cells how to behave. Sometimes, certain conditions can get in the way and make you sick as a result.

Cancer begins in your genes, especially affecting the way your cells grow and divide. This process depends on specific instructions in your DNA left there specifically for your cells to follow. When this process is disrupted, cancer develops.

You start making more cells than you need

Synapse and Neuron cells

Cancer causes your cells to continuously grow and divide. |

Normally, your body only makes new cells when it needs them. Once cancer causes genetic changes, your cells continuously grow and divide without stopping. Cancer can also prevent old cells from dying off as they usually do.

Your body doesn’t know what to do with these extra, abnormal cells. Sometimes they accumulate in specific tissues, forming harmful masses called tumors.

Sometimes, these extra cells become tumors

Cancer cell made in 3D software

Not all tumors are cancerous. | vitanovski/iStock/Getty Images

Tumors are abnormal growths of tissue that can accumulate throughout the body. Whether a tumor has the ability to spread cancer to other parts of the body or not, they often need to be removed to prevent other health complications.

Just because someone has a tumor doesn’t mean they have cancer. However, doctors often use tumors to test and diagnose cancerous tissue.

Tumors can affect other parts of your body

Nurse drawing blood

Tumors can affect your body’s blood flow. | Picsfive/iStock/Getty Images

Not all tumors are cancerous, but that doesn’t mean they’re harmless. Even non-cancerous tumors can cause blockages and prevent blood from reaching certain parts of your body.

Cancerous tumors, however, grow quickly and have only one goal: to “invade” other parts of your body. This is often how cancer spreads, and why some people end up with cancer in parts of their bodies different from where it started.

Your immune system might malfunction

Red and white blood cells

You will become more susceptible to other diseases when you have cancer. |

Some types of cancer affect your immunity, significantly decreasing the number of red blood cells created in your bone marrow.

Your immune system is one of your body’s most important defenses against infections and disease. When cancer affects this function, you’re much more susceptible to other illnesses and their side effects.

You might start losing weight without trying

female feet on a weighing scale

Suddenly dropping 10 pounds is not a good sign. |

Losing more than 10 pounds for unexplainable reasons is often an early sign of multiple types of cancer.

This might happen because you lose your appetite and don’t eat as much as you normally would. Depending on the type of cancer, abnormal cell growth in certain tissues, such as those in the stomach, can prevent your body from getting the proper nutrition it needs.

Untreated, cancer can shut down your vital organs

Hospital bed

It is considered fatal when your organs shut down. | iStock/Getty Images

When people learn the side effects of cancer treatment, they sometimes wonder if these treatments are worse than cancer itself.

In truth, untreated cancers invade your body’s organs, which eventually causes them to shut down. This makes it impossible for your body to function in a way that allows you to survive unassisted. Organ failure, especially involving multiple organs, is usually fatal.

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