In the first of several sequels on cancer, it’s only fair to define cancer for those who might not be aware of the disease beyond its name. Cancer can start almost anywhere in the human body, which is made up of trillions of cells. Normally, human cells grow and divide to form new cells according to the needs of the body. The old or damaged cells die to give way to new cells. However, this sense of order breaks down when cancer develops in the body. Abnormal cells begin to form due to old or damaged cells surviving instead of dying. Even new cells formed when not needed, become abnormal and may form growths called tumors. In some cases such as blood cancer, tumors are not formed.
Cancerous tumors that spread into surrounding tissues are known as malignant. They can break off and travel to distant places in the body through the blood or the lymph system and form new tumors far from the original tumor. In the new site they become independent (secondary) cancer and are said to have metastasized. These tumors are called a metastasis or metastases for many. There are more than 100 types of cancers usually named for the organs or tissues where they form. For example, lung cancer starts in cells of the lung, and brain cancer starts in cells of the brain. The name of some cancers may originate from the type of cell that formed them, such as an epithelial cell or a squamous cell.
Signs and symptoms of cancer are signals that something is not right in the body. Remember, the earlier the cancer is detected the easier it is to treat. Unexplained weight loss especially for pancreas, stomach, lung and esophagus cancer. Fever which is very common with cancer after it has spread from where it started. Fatigue is extreme tiredness that doesn’t get better with rest and may happen in leukemia cases. Some stomach or colon cancers can cause blood loss resulting to fatigue. Pain may be an early symptom with some cancers like bone or testicular while a headache that does not go away or get better with treatment may be a symptom of a brain tumor. Back pain can be a symptom of colon, rectum or ovary cancer. Most often, pain due to cancer means it has already spread from where it started.
Along with skin cancers, some other cancers can cause skin color and changes such as yellowish skin and eyes (jaundice) which could lead to liver cancer. Colon cancer is present if patient has long term constipation, diarrhea, or a change in the size of the stool. Pain when passing urine, blood in the urine, or a change in bladder function could be related to prostate or bladder cancer. Skin cancers may bleed and look like sores that don’t heal while a sore in the mouth that won’t go away could be an oral cancer. Abnormal vaginal bleeding could be caused by cervical or endometrium cancer while blood in the urine may be a sign of kidney or bladder cancer. A bloody discharge from the nipple or lump may be a sign of breast cancer while a cough that does not go away may be a lung cancer sign. Hoarseness can be a sign of thyroid gland cancer.
For each type of cancer there are tests that can be done to figure out the stage of the cancer. Stage 1 or 2 means that the cancer has not spread very much while stage 3 or 4 means it has spread more. At Stage 4 is where the disease has spread extensively. Treatment options vary, depending on the type of cancer and how far it has grown or spread. Chemotherapy uses drugs to treat many types of cancer. Tablets or capsules are given to the patient or drugs injected into a vein. Surgery removes all or part of the cancer with an operation, while radiotherapy is the use of high energy rays, usually x-rays and similar rays (such as electrons) to treat cancer. Stem cell and bone marrow transplants are used with high-dose chemotherapy to treat and control some cancers.
For cancers that depend on hormones to grow, drugs are used to block the effects of hormones in a treatment called hormone therapy. Immunotherapy treatment boosts the immune system to help to fight cancer where injections of antibodies which aim to attack and destroy certain types of cancer cells are used. Gene therapy is a new area of possible treatments of blocking, repairing or replacing abnormal genes in cancer cells. Special techniques can sometimes be used to cut off the blood supply to tumors which then die. Some cancers may be treated by combining two or more treatments. A range of other treatments may also be used to ease cancer related symptoms such as pain. In clinical trials, many people are offered a trial as part of treatment.
There are cancers that are common in females such as breast, ovarian or cervical. For men prostrate cancer is common while for children, it is retinoblastoma. In order to reduce the risk of getting cancer, avoid all forms of tobacco, eat healthy, exercise regularly, avoid obesity, avoid alcohol. If you have to limit your drinking to one or two bottles a day. Avoid being exposed to radiation as well as industrial and environmental toxins and get enough vitamin D.
Myths about cancer that have been demystified are that cancer is a death sentence, it’s caused by witchcraft and that one cannot be cured once diagnosed. Others believe that it’s a punishment or curse from God caused by breaking some rules. Another misconception is that a pregnant mother with cancer will automatically give birth to a child with cancer. Cancer cannot spread from one person to another. It is not a contagious disease. The only situation in which cancer can spread from one person to another is in the case of organ or tissue transplantation. More recently, it has been alleged that plastic water bottles left in the car for long can cause cancer. This has not been proven right scientifically but we’re part of a student thesis. Cell phones and power lines have not been proven to cause cancer.
Cancer arises from changes to genes that control the way our cells function, especially how they grow and divide. It can therefore be classified as a genetic disease. Lifestyle factors such as tobacco use, diet or physical inactivity are a contributor. Some viruses are linked to certain cancers. An example is those with persistent infection with the Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C virus have an increased risk of developing cancer of the liver. Other factors include environmental exposure to different types of chemicals and radiation as well as age factor with the belief that the older one is, the more likely they will develop a cancer. This is probably due to a build up of damage to cells in the body over time. Also, the body’s defenses and resistance against abnormal cells may become weaker as you get older. Those with a compromised immune system such as HIV/AIDS or people on immunosuppressive treatment. Patients have an increased risk of developing certain cancers.