"The body strikes back" - The failure of the immune defence against cancer

A malign tumour grows, when the immune system cannot cope with cancer cells. The film demonstrates, what strategies cancer cells use in order to outwit the immune system.

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Early detection of cancer

The earlier cancer is detected, the greater the chances of a cure.

There has been a legal right to early detection examinations for cancer, paid for by public health insurance, in Germany since 1971. As of the age of 20, women should certainly have an examination of the vagina and the cervix (pap smear) and, as of the age of 30, a breast examination (palpitation, ultrasonogram) every year.Men are recommended to have a detection examination of the prostate (palpitation, ultrasonogram), the lungs (X-ray) and the rectum (stool blood test) - women as well - as of the age of 45.

Cancer cells

Mutant cells can form malign tumours.

Most of the imaging procedures cause little discomfort to the patients. Lung and breast tumours generally become visible on X-rays - the simplest imaging procedure - when they reach a size of about one centimetre. Ultrasonic examination - without any exposure to radiation - is the method of choice to take a look at internal organs such as the liver, kidneys, spleen, pancreas, thyroid gland, testicles, prostate and female breasts. Computer tomography (CT) creates a large number of individual X-ray images which are put together to show a complete cross-section of a body region. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRT) does not involve any exposure to radiation; the region of the body which is to be "illuminated" is exposed to a magnetic field and then, as in the CT, a series of cross-section images is created. If colon cancer is suspected, the doctor inserts a flexible endoscope into the rectum. The diagnostic device, equipped with a weak source of light and sensitive optics, transmits a view of the interior of the colon on a screen. However, interpreting the images correctly requires a lot of experience.

The hereditary disposition for breast cancer can be determined in a relatively simple way by using a molecular biology test. This test involves the search for genetic changes in the breast cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 (BRCA = breast cancer). Both genes are actually tumour suppressor genes which are supposed to protect from uncontrolled cell growth. If they have changed pathologically, this control is missing and the tissue can grown without hindrance. The gene test is actually performed only to determine if a woman with a corresponding family history is at increased risk for cancer. Even if this is the case, there will not necessarily be a malignant tumour. But the women with the increased risk will generally participate in a more tightly meshed preventive care programme.

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