What is Cancer and what causes it?

Cancer Facts

When cell divides and begin to grow out of control and spread to other tissues, it is called cancer. In human body, there are trillion of cells. Cancer is said to be an abnormal cell growth. It is a collection of related diseases. One of the major morbidity and mortality cause worldwide is cancer. According to World Health Organization (WHO), the new cancer cases are expected to rise by 70% in the coming 20 years.

Each cell grows and divide, die when become old and new cells come into the place. Cancer develops by breaking down this orderly process. In cancer, as cells grows and become older, instead of dying, these damaged cells continue to grow and new cells too start forming even when they are not needed. These extra cell growths, which divide without stopping, formed are called tumors. These extra cell growths or subset is termed as neoplasms. Tumors can be either benign or malignant. Benign tumors can be removed. They do not grow back and do not spread to other tissues. Unlike all benign tumors, benign brain tumors cannot be removed and can be life threatening. Malignant tumors are cancerous, i.e. they can spread to other tissues. In addition, when these tumors grow, the cells break off. These broken cells travel to other body parts through blood and lymph, and develop into a new tumor far from the place of origin. This type of cancer, which has moved from its original place to other part, is called metastatic cancer and this process is called metastasis. The cancer deaths that occur are majorly because of metastatic disease. Although treatment for metastatic cancers is available to prolong the life of some people, they cause severe damage to the body’s functioning. Many tumors are solid meaning masses of tissues. Cancers like leukemia occurring in blood do not form solid mass of tissues.

All types of tumor cells reveal following characteristics called ‘six hallmarks of cancer’.

1. Proper cell growth and division absent

2. No programmed cell death occurs

3. Blood vessels construction is promoted

4. Cell divisions are limitless

5. Metastases formation and tissue invasion

6. Continuous growth and division occurs after receiving contrary signals

The cancer is categorized broadly into five classes: carcinomas, lymphomas, sarcomas, adenomas, and leukemias. There are more than 200 different types of cancer. Some of them are anal cancer, endometrial cancer, prostate cancer, bone cancer, leukemia, testicular cancer, cervical cancer, lymphoma, vaginal cancer, colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, fallopian tube cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, stomach cancer, breast cancer, liver cancer, thyroid cancer, vulvar cancer, colon cancer, ovarian cancer, brain cancer, melanoma, skin cancer, esophageal cancer, Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, uterine cancer etc. According to studies and research works, the most common sites of cancer among men are lung, colon, liver, rectum, stomach, and prostate, and for women are breast, rectum, cervix, colon, stomach, and rectum.

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The signs and symptoms of cancer include unhealed sores, persistent cough, shortness of breath, unusual bleeding, lumps in breast and testicle, thickened areas elsewhere in the body, swollen and enlarged lymph nodes, difficulty in swallowing, anemia, persistent headaches, chronic pain in bones, more frequent urination or infrequent urination, loss of appetite, brittle and painful bones, persistent low fever, fatigue, seizures, nausea or vomiting, weight loss, and repeated infection. These may vary depending on the type of cancer and some are specific in some cancer cases. Also in people with other problems, symptoms might occur frequently. At the beginning of cancer development in the body, no symptoms are observed. They appear as the cell mass grows. Cancer is known as a ‘great imitator’ because it can reoccur even after successful treatment and surgery.

What is cancer staging? Why is it important? What are the types of staging systems?

Be curious always to ask more questions to your doctor to understand better. Staging reveals two things: (1) the size of a cancer and (2) how far it has grown. Staging systems for caner include grading to understand before giving treatment how similar a cancer cell is to a normal cell. It is important because this will help in framing the right treatment for you: if a cancer is in one place, radiotherapy or surgery will work (local treatment) and if a cancer has spread, then the local treatment will not work and systemic treatments (such as hormone therapy, chemotherapy, and biological therapies) are required (that circulates throughout the body). To learn if the cancer has spread, doctors look at the lymph nodes near to the cancer. If these nodes have cancer cells, this means that the cancer has started to spread. This condition is named as positive lymph nodes by doctors. Then, adjuvant treatment is provided, e.g. with surgery, chemotherapy is also given to kill any broken cells of the tumor. There are two types of staging systems: (1) the TNM system (tumor, node, metastasis) and (2) the number system.

The TNM system describes three conditions: the size of the primary tumor (referred by T and ranges from 1 to 4, with 1 being small and 4 large), if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes (referred by N and ranges from 1 to 3, with 0 meaning no cancer cells in lymph nodes and 3 meaning lots of cancer cells are present in lymph nodes), and if it has spread to other body parts (referred by M and is either 0 meaning the cancer has not spread or 1 meaning the cancer has spread).

The number staging system divides the cancer in the following four stages using the TNM system. Stage 1 means that the cancer is quite small and has not spread. Stage 2 means the cancer has not spread and is larger than stage 1. At times, cancer cells might spread to the lymph nodes near the tumor region. This depends on the cancer type. Stage 3 means that the cancer is large has started to spread in the body through nearby tissues and the lymph nodes. Stage 4 means that the cancer has grown to another body organ too far from the origin. This is called secondary or metastatic cancer. Doctors sometimes use three letters – A, B, and C – to divide the categories further, e.g. stage 3B cervical cancer. Biopsy is the technique with which staging of the cancer is done. In the above-mentioned staging methods, variations exist.

According to surveillance, epidemiology, and end results (SEER) program by Nation Cancer Institute (NCI), a summary staging has been provided, which is used by many registries. It has categorized cancer cases into five: in situ, localized, regional, distant, and unknown.

Now the question is when to see a doctor? If you experience symptoms like mentioned above, if any of the symptoms lasts for more than 2 weeks, and if the experienced symptoms are not related to some other disease, consult a doctor immediately. Various detection and treatment options for cancers are available. Symptoms can help in early detection and recognition of most cancers, yet no definitive diagnosis is available. A pathologist examines the tissue sample for diagnosis by performing biopsy. Medical tests are conducted for detection like X-rays, blood tests, endoscopy, and computerized tomography (CT) scanning. The classification of cancer is done based on the type of tumor cells resemble to and is assumed to be the origin of tumor. These types include the five classes mentioned in the article above. Other tissue tests include cytogenetics and immunohistochemistry. However, for all types of cancers, screening methods are not available and if tests are available, then those are not recommended to all. Two types of screening are thus done: universal screening (it is for everyone) and specific screening (it is for people at higher risk). Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the two most common treatment options available done to cure cancer but they are very harmful. Other treatment options include surgery, hormonal therapy, palliative care, and targeted therapy. Medications are also available for cancer in some cases, like NSAIDs – they reduce colorectal cancer, aspirin – reduces the risk of death by 7%, raloxifene and tamoxifene – reduce the risk of breast cancer, and COX-2 inhibitors – decreases the rate of polyp formation. Vitamins have no effect in cancer prevention. Medications that might worsen the condition are beta-carotene supplements – accelerates the lung cancer and folic acid – increase polyp formation. Vaccines are also available, which help in prevention from carcinogenic viruses. The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine decreases the cervical cancer risk. Hepatitis B vaccine helps in liver cancer prevention and protects from hepatitis B infection. What comes in the way of cancer cure is ‘cost’. Do not worry now.

NextDoorLab is now a step away from you. Dial 0124-222-3197 and consult with a doctor free at NextDoorLab. Some infections also lead to cancer development, such as hepatitis B (can cause liver cancer), hepatitis C (can cause liver cancer), and HPV (can cause penile, anal, cervical, vaginal, and throat cancers). Early detection and right diagnosis can help in recovering sooner. Cancer occurs without warning. Taking prevention by adapting healthy lifestyles changes can lower and prevents the risk of cancer.

First, quit smoking. It contains tobacco, which contains harmful chemicals that damage cells and cancer develops. Smoking is directly related to cancer. It leads to various types of cancers like stomach cancer, mouth cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, certain leukemias, and pancreatic cancer.

Second, maintain a healthy weight to avoid the development of cancer. Being obese puts you at a higher risk of developing one. Obesity can trigger the formation of colon cancer, breast cancer, endometrial cancer, pancreatic cancer, and colon cancer. Eating healthy foods to keep the weight in control is a good option.

Third, regular exercises are the boost up for the body. Not only cancer, but also other problems will stay far from you. This way keeping your weight normal will be easier too. Exercising 2 hour and 30 minutes a week is the best to let your health benefit from.

Fourth, prevent yourself from going out in sun, because ultra-violet (UV) rays are very harmful and can harm your skin. Applying sunscreen on your skin 15–30 minutes before going outside can prevent your skin from harmful UV rays.

Fifth, limiting alcohol is necessary as drinking it leads to breast cancer, oral cancer, esophageal cancer, and colorectal cancer (in men). Having none at all is the best; otherwise 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women are recommended. Our body needs to break down alcohol releasing a byproduct, which damages our cells, and interfere with healthy nutrients of the body.

Sixth, healthy diet is necessary to keep the body’s immunity working at its best. What to eat more and avoid will help in cancer prevention? Avoid taking processed and packaged foods (from boxes and cans), processed meats (bacon, hotdogs, and deli meats), limit red meat, limit and avoid, if possible, candies, chocolates, other sweets, bakery items, high-calorie fattening food, and avoid heavy sauces and creams. Food to focus on is drinking more water, eating more plant-based foods (like legumes, fruits, green vegetables, and beans), lean proteins (chicken and fish), grain cereals, whole-wheat pasta, breads, and prepare food at home as much as possible. Try to have more baked foods at home rather than grilling and broiling. Added sweeteners and chemicals are present in pre-made food, which adversely harms our body.

Finally, with all preventive measures and awareness, regular check-ups are must. Not much but visit to doctor once a year is best and beneficial. Screening will help effectively early cancer detection and let the condition improve early.

Stay informed, understand the ‘goods’, and let it viral.

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