- About Cancer
- Risk Factors
- Types of Cancer
- Treatment For Cancer
We break out in a cold sweat upon hearing the word ‘Cancer’. This life-threatening disease has taken millions of lives over time and continues to haunt us we can never predict the occurrence of this deathly disease. ‘Cancer’ is not just one disease but it has a lot of cancers under the umbrella. How is cancer caused? Cancer on any part or organ is caused when the cells in the body grow abnormally. Our body has trillions of cells which have a process cycle to keep the body healthy and function properly. The cells grow, divide and die. This represents the life cycle of healthy cells. New cells are formed as the old ones die but when this process is disrupted due to DNA mutations, cells grow abnormally and cause cancer.
DNA mutations can cause damaged cells to survive and unnecessary formation of new cells. This means extra cells in the body that trigger the uncontrolled growth of cells, also called tumors. These can form at any part of the body. The health problems and severity of the condition depends on the location of the tumor and its size. Malign tumors can also attack the neighboring organs causing severe damage. Some cancer cells spread to the other parts of the body through blood or lymphatic system and this process is called metastasis. Metastasized cancers are more dangerous and fatal.
However, all tumors are not cancerous. Some tumors are benign which do not damage the nearby cells and tissues.
Some Facts About Cancer
There are more than 100 types of cancer and any body part can get cancer.
Cancer is the second major cause of death in the USA, heart ailments being number one. 1 out of 4 people die due to cancer and the risk is higher in people aged above 40.
About 1,600 American people died of cancer every day in the year 2013.
Breast cancer and skin cancer are highly common in women.
The most common cancers among women are breast, skin, lung and colon while for men it is: prostate, lung and colon.
Tobacco consumption causes 22% of cancer death globally. Also, it is the only preventable cause.
More than 2.5 million cases of skin cancer are identified every year. Most of them can be prevented by taking the necessary skincare steps.
Unexpectedly, the second major cause of death in children is cancer.
Here are some factors that can put a person to the risk of cancer:
Poor lifestyle, diet and hygiene habits
Exposure to carcinogens(chemicals that cause cancer)
Exposure to radiation
Direct exposure to sunlight and UV rays
Smoking and/or tobacco consumption
Some viruses like HPV(human papillomavirus)
Common Signs and Symptoms Of Cancer
Though the signs and symptoms of cancers differ as per their type, here are some common cancer warning signs:
Unexplained Weight Loss: When the person experiences abrupt weight loss without any diet restriction or major lifestyle changes. Losing 10 pounds or more unreasonably could be the initial warning of stomach, pancreas and lung cancer.
Fever: This is a common health condition that we ignore. Due to cancer development, body temperature changes causing fever. Fever is one of the first signs of lymphomas and leukemia cancer.
Fatigue: Extreme tiredness on a regular basis indicates that something is not right with your body.
Pain: Some cancer such as breast and bone cancer causes pain which I due to the growth of tumors in the body. Generally, this occurs in the case of metastasized cancer.
Skin changes: If your skin is turning pale or yellow, it could mean that you have a cancer cell growth.
Digestive problems: Improper bowel movements, diarrhoea, constipation, etc. are common signs of colon cancer.
Out of all the cancers, lung cancer is the most death-causing cancer type. The two types of lung cancer are:
Primary lung cancer: when the cancer cells grow in the lung itself
Secondary lung cancer: when cancer originated at some place but traveled to the lungs (metastasis).
The treatment for both of them is different.
The major complication with lung cancer is that most patients don’t show symptoms initially or these signs might not be noticeable. Some possible symptoms are:
- Chest pain
- Recurrent cough
- Hemoptysis(blood in cough)
- Difficulty breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Fever due to lung infection
- Voice hoarseness
In most cases, the growth of lung cancer is rapid and it can also spread to other vital parts such as brain and bones.
Treatment of lung cancer depends upon the stage of cancer, your medical stats, type of cancer tumor and its location. The common treatment options for lung cancer are chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy. Sadly, the survival rate of lung cancer patients is very low.
Breast cancer is highly common in women where the cancer cells originate in the breasts on either the ducts or the lobules. Lobules are milk-producing glands and ducts are the passage that supplies milk from lobules to the nipple. In some cases, cancer also occurs in fibrous tissues and fatty tissues. Like lung cancer, breast cancer can also metastasize to other body parts.
The types of breast cancer are invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC), Tubular Carcinoma, Mucinous (colloid) carcinoma, Carcinomas with medullary features and Invasive papillary carcinoma.
Each breast cancer type has different symptoms but the common symptoms are:
- A lump in the breast
- Pain in breast
- Blood discharge in nipple
- Swollen breasts
- Redness around breasts
- Scaling or flaky skin
- Inverted nipple
- The abrupt change in the size and shape of the breast
- Swelling in arms
- Breast cancer diagnosis
- Breast cancer is diagnosed with these methods:
- Ultrasound of breasts
Blood cancer is caused due to abnormal functioning of blood cells. This cancer originates in the bone marrow as blood is produced there and are also called as hematologic cancer. Due to interruption in the functioning of blood, new blood cells are not formed and also, infection is caused.
There are three main types of blood cancer:
Lymphoma- There are two sub-categories of lymphoma cancer- Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. This cancer originates in the lymphatic system and attacks lymphocytes which boosts immunity.
Leukemia- this cancer occurs in the bone marrow and hampers its ability to produce platelets and RBCs. This cancer is triggered when there is an abnormality in the number of white blood cells.
Myeloma- This blood cancer type originates in the plasma cells of the blood.
- The warning signs of blood cancer are:
- Fever or sudden chills
- Sweating while sleeping
- Unexplained weight loss
- Abdominal discomfort
- Frequent infections
- Pain in bones and joints
- Swelling in lymph nodes
As the name suggests, this cancer originates in the ovary and is common in women as it is a female reproductive gland that produces female hormones. When the cells multiply abnormally in the ovary and form a cancerous tumor. Ovarian cancer is treatable if diagnosed on time. Also, it is metastatic cancer which can spread to other body parts. Due to vague symptoms, only 20% of cases are identified at the initial stage.
There are three types of ovarian tumors:
Epithelial: Most of the ovarian cancers are caused due to epithelial tumors.
Stromal tumors: This cancer occurs in the hormone-producing cells.
Germ cell: This is rare cancer that originates in the egg-producing cells.
The early symptoms of ovarian cancer are vague and therefore, it gets difficult to diagnose it beforehand. Here are some common signs:
- Stomach bloating and pain
- Increase in urination
- Problem in eating
- Extreme tiredness
- Irregularities in menstruation
- Persistent back pain
- Painful intercourse
- There are four methods to detect ovarian cancer:
- Transvaginal ultrasound (TVUS)
- Abdominal and pelvic CT scan or Pelvic MRI scan
- A blood test to measure cancer antigen 125 (CA-125)
Prostate cancer is a type of cancer that originates in the prostate gland and is responsible to transport sperm. This cancer occurs only in men and generally, its growth is very slow. In some cases, prostate cancer doesn’t require any treatment as it slows slowly whereas, sometimes it gets aggressive and spread rapidly. The treatment becomes easier with early detection but the signs and symptoms are vague in the first stage.
Sometimes, patients of prostate cancer suffer from these symptoms:
- Blood in semen
- Problem in urination
- Pain in bones and joints
- Erectile dysfunction
- Pain and distress in the pelvic region
- There is a certain complication associated with prostate cancer such as:
- Erectile dysfunction: A man may suffer from ED either during prostate cancer or during its treatment. Medicines or surgeries can leave a negative impact on their health.
- Metastasizing: Prostate cancer can metastasize and spread to other parts of the body. It can be controlled but not cured in that case.
- Urinary Incontinence: People who got treated for prostate cancer also suffered urinary incontinence.
The risk of skin cancer is high in people whose skin is exposed to the sun and harmful UV rays for most of the time. However, skin cancer can also grow in the skin areas that are least exposed as a result of metastasis. In this cancer, the skin cells suffer abnormal growth which then forms a tumor.
The common types of skin cancer are Melanoma, Basal cell carcinoma, Squamous cell carcinoma, and Nonmelanoma skin cancer.
The less common types are Kaposi sarcoma, Sebaceous gland carcinoma and Merkel cell carcinoma.
Every skin cancer type shows different signs and symptoms. Here are the common signs that you should watch out for:
- A new mole
- Growth of existing moles
- Suspicious changes on the skin
- Lesions that haven’t healed over time or itch/bleed
- The risk of skin cancer can be minimized by proper sun protection. Limiting your outings in the sun can help in preventing the onset of skin cancer.
When malignant tumors grow in the brain, it causes brain cancer. This cancer may either form in the brain or may come metastasized from other parts of the body. But all tumors are not cancerous, it depends. When cancer cells come in contact with healthy cells, they turn them cancerous. The grades of brain cancer decide the aggressiveness of cancer and treatment.
Often vary but the common brain cancer symptoms are:
- Persistent headache
- Problems in vision
- Problems in speech
Bone cancer is caused in any bone of the body but mostly, it affects the long bones of legs and arms and the pelvis. Out of all the cancers, only 1% of cases are of bone cancer making it rare. Surprisingly, non-cancerous tumors in the bone are highly common as compared to cancerous tumors.
There are three types of bone cancer- Ewing sarcoma, Chondrosarcoma and Osteosarcoma.
Some types of bone tumors occur only in children whereas some affect only adults. The treatment of bone cancer is done by chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery. Surgery is the go-to bone cancer treatment although the treatment depends on the kind of bone cancer.
The common signs and symptoms of bone cancer are:
- Pain in bones
- Weakness in bones which may even lead to bone fracture
- Swelling around the affected area
- Fatigue and nausea
- Uninitiated and abrupt weight loss
- The risk factors for bone cancer are:
- Inherited syndromes: If someone from your family has a history of bone cancer, it is highly likely that you may get it too. Also, certain genetic syndromes like hereditary retinoblastoma, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, etc.
Radiation therapy: If you have undergone cancer treatment earlier, then you may also get bone cancer. Radiation therapy often causes the risk of bone cancer in the nearby future.
Bone disease: A disease like Paget’s disease which occurs in adults puts the person to a risk of bone risk in later life.
If possible, doctors try to remove the cancerous tumor through surgery.
Chemotherapy is a long procedure that is carried in multiple sittings. These medicines that can divide and kill the cancer cells are given to the patient. This treatment is very painful and it causes baldness.
- Radiation Therapy
In this treatment, powerful beams of radiations are used to destroy the cancerous cells. Inside radiation therapy is called brachytherapy and radiation therapy outside the body is called external beam radiation.
- Hormone Therapy
This therapy either inhibits or permanently blocks the hormones that are promoting the growth of cancer cells.
This therapy utilizes the antibodies which awaken the immune system to identify cancer cells and destroy them. However, this can produce results in stage zero cancers only.
- Stem Cell Transplant
This is done in blood cancer where the defected cancer cells are replaced by healthy cells. Chemotherapy is also done along to get better results.
- Targeted Drug Therapy
In this therapy, doctors inject certain drugs in the patient’s body that fight and kill the molecules that are promoting the growth of cancer cells.
- Alternative Medicine
This is not counted as a cancer treatment but alternative medicines help to ease out the side-effects of cancer therapies. The treatment is likely to cause fatigue, nausea, pain, etc. Alternative medicines or treatments or exercises mitigate their sensation to promote wellness and speedy recovery.
The alternative treatments are acupuncture, yoga, massage, hypnosis, meditation, relaxation techniques, etc. Doctors suggest practicing these along with other treatments for the best results.