About Cancer

What is cancer?

Your body is made up of trillions of cells that normally grow and divide as needed. When these cells are abnormal or get old, they usually die. Sometimes this process breaks down, and abnormal or older cells grow and multiply when they shouldn't. Cancer is a disease in which cells begin to grow out of control and spread to other parts of the body. It can develop anywhere in the body and is named after the part of the body where it started. Cancer cell grows so much that it forms a mass of cells called a tumor.

What are the different types of tumors?

There are two types of tumors.

  • Benign tumors-Benign tumors grow slowly and do not spread to another part of the body.
  • Malignant tumors- Malignant tumors grow rapidly, invade and destroy nearby normal tissues, and spread throughout the body.

What does a tumor do?

Tumours cause medical problems by directly pressing on and damaging nearby organs and indirectly by breaking off and invading other distant tissues and organs.

What are different factors causing cancer?

For a clear understanding of cancer-causing factors, you should know what exactly a mutagen is. Mutagens area cancer-causing substance that causes irreversible and heritable changes in DNA. Mutagens can be physical, chemical, and biological.

  • Physical mutagens can be caused by ionizing radiation such as cosmic and ultraviolet radiation from the sun, sunbeds, or electric welding torches.
  • Chemical mutagenssuch as benzopyrene are found in cigarette smoke, alcohol, Vinyl chloride used for making plastics, and aflatoxin found in certain molds.
  • Biological mutagens may be viral or bacterial. About 1 in 5 of all cancers worldwide is caused by microbes (viruses or bacteria). These include the Human papillomavirus (HPV), Ebstein Barr virus, Hepatitis B virus, and Helicobacter pylori.

Certain hormones, family history of cancer, poor diet, lack of physical activity, or being overweight are also a risk factor for cancer.

What are the types of cancer?

The four major types of cancer are -

  • Carcinoma - Carcinomas are cancers that originate from cells which line a body surface or the lining of a gland. It is the most commonly diagnosed cancer. It begins in skin, lungs, breasts, pancreas, and other organs and glands.
  • Sarcoma - Sarcomas are cancers that originate from cells that make up the connective tissues such as bones or muscles. They are relatively uncommon.
  • Lymphoma - Lymphomas are cancers of lymphocytes. It is a type of cancer that starts from white blood cells. It affects lymph nodes of specific sites like the stomach, Brain, Intestine, etc.
  • Leukemia - Leukaemias are cancers of cells in the bone marrow and lymph glands. It does not usually form solid tumors. It begins in blood-forming tissue and causes large numbers of abnormal blood cells and enters the blood.

What are the early warning signs of cancer?

The early warning signs of cancer are as follows:

  • New lumps or growths on your skin
  • A sore or bruise that does not heal.
  • A mole that changes in shape, size, or color or bleeds in unusual circumstances.
  • An ongoing cough or hoarseness that lasts longer than three weeks.
  • Indigestion or difficulty in swallowing.
  • A change in bowel or bladder habits for no good reason.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Unexplained weight loss or tiredness.
  • Blood anywhere it normally should not be in urine, bowel motions, or from spitting.

How does cancer progress?

Cancer progresses according to the categories grouped into four stages (I to IV), some cancer may also have stage 0

  • Stage 0 - Stage 0 cancers are cancer that is located in the place they started and have not spread to nearby tissues. Some experts refer to stage 0 as pre-cancerous changes with a high potential to develop invasive cancer in future.
  • Stage I - Stage I means the cancer is restricted to one small area and does not spread to other tissue or lymph nodes. It is called early-stage cancer.
  • Stage II and III - Stage II and III means tumor and has deeply spread into nearby tissue. They may have spread in lymph nodes but not to other organs of the body.
  • Stage IV - Stage IV means cancer has spread to other organs or parts of the body. It is often referred to as advanced or metastatic cancer.

Diagnosis of cancer

There are several methods of diagnosing cancer with today’s modern medical research.

Your doctor may use one or more methods to diagnose cancer which is usually done by a pathologist and oncopathologist.

  • Physical examination: Your doctor may check areas of your body for lumps that may suggest cancer. During a physical examination, your doctor may look for irregularity, such as changes in skin color or enlargement of an organ that may stipulate the presence of cancer.
  • Laboratory investigations: Lab test reveals abnormal level of certain substances in your blood, urine, or other body fluids. Result of these test help doctors to make a diagnosis. However, abnormal lab results are not always a sign of cancer. There are some lab tests that involve testing blood or tissue samples for tumor markers. Tumour marker is produced by normal as well as cancerous cells. It is produced at much higher levels by cancer cells.
  • Radiological imaging :Radiological imaging is one of the best early, non-invasive methods of a cancer diagnosis. It produces images of areas inside your body that help the doctor spot whether a tumor is present. These images can be made through various ways such as X-ray, Ultrasound, CT scan, MRI, bone scan, and PET scan.
  • Biopsy: A biopsy is a procedure in which the doctor removes a sample of tissue based on clinical examinations. A pathologist inspects the tissue under a microscope and runs various tests to see if the tissue is cancerous. Biopsy can be done with the help of needle, endoscopy and surgery. Biopsy confirms the presence of cancer.

Treatment of cancer

Cancer is treatable and chances of survival increases if it is detected on time. Treatment of cancer depends on stages (0-IV) that is how far advance the cancer is and types of cancer. This information is used to help decide and plan the best treatment. Treatment of cancer includes surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and sometimes combination therapy. In later stages (Stage IV) targeted biological therapy is also used.

The following are the different types of cancer treatment:

  • Surgery: Surgery is the oldest kind of the cancer treatment that removes cancer cell and possibly some nearby tissue.
  • Radiation Therapy : Radiation therapy uses high-powered energy beams, such as X-rays or protons, to kill cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy :Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells
  • Immunotherapy: It boosts up the body’s natural defences to fight cancer. It is also called biological therapy.
  • Targeted therapy It precisely identify and attack certain types of cancer cells.
  • Hormone Therapy : Hormonal therapy slows or stops the growth of cancer that uses hormones to grow. It is a long-term treatment and may be prescribed for several years, with most medications taken daily.

Life style modification plays a vital role in management of cancer by improving prognosis and quality of life. Life style modification includes weight management, physical activity (at least 150 minutes per week), diet (fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants), avoiding alcohol, smoking and tobacco.

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