In modern society cancer is the disease most feared by the majority ofpeople throughout the world, supplanting the “white death,” ortuberculosis, of the last century; the “black death,” or bubonic plague,of the Middle Ages; and the leprosy of biblical times. Cancer has beenknown and described throughout history, although its greater prevalencetoday is undoubtedly due to the conquest by medical science of mostinfectious diseases and to the increased life span of humans. The study ofcancer is known as the field of ONCOLOGY. In the mid-1980s nearly 6 millionnew cancer cases and more than 4 million deaths from cancer were beingreported world-wide each year.
The most common fatal form was stomachcancer (prevalent in Asia), but lung cancer has risen rapidly, because ofthe spread of cigarette smoking in developing countries, to become theleading fatal cancer in the world today. Also on the increase is thethird-greatest killer, breast cancer, particularly in China and Japan. Thefourth on the list is colon or rectum cancer, a disease that mainly strikesthe elderly.
In the United States in the mid-1980s, more than one-fifth ofall deaths were caused by cancer; only the cardiovascular diseasesaccounted for a higher percentage. In 1990 the American Cancer Societypredicted that about 30 percent of Americans will eventually develop someform of the disease. In the United States skin cancer is the mostprevalent cancer in both men and women. Lung cancer, however, causes themost deaths in both men and women. LEUKEMIA, or cancer of the blood, isthe most common type seen in children. An increasing incidence of cancerhas been clearly observable over the past few decades, due in part toimproved cancer screening programs, to the increasing number of olderpersons in the population, and also to the large number of tobaccosmokers–particularly among women. Some researchers have estimated that ifAmericans stopped smoking cigarettes, lung-cancer deaths could virtually beeliminated within 20 years.