Cancer is a condition where cells in a specific part of the body grow and reproduce uncontrollably. Cancer can start almost anywhere in the human body and can spread to other areas (this process is known as metastasis). Normally, human cells grow and divide to form new cells. When cells grow old or become damaged, they eventually die, and new cells take their place. However, when cancer develops, this organized process becomes disrupted, and abnormal, old or damaged cells survive when they should actually die. Additionally, new cells may form when they are not needed. These extra cells can divide without stopping and may form growths called tumors. Many cancers form solid tumors, which are masses of tissue; however, some cancers do not form tumors, such as cancers of the blood, like leukemias.
Cancer is a genetic disease; it is caused by changes to our genes that control the way our cells function (especially how they grow and divide). Genetic changes that cause cancer can be inherited from our parents. They can also arise during a person’s lifetime as a result of damage to their DNA. This damage can be caused by certain environmental exposures including: chemicals in tobacco smoke, some infections and radiation (such as ultraviolet rays from the sun). This damage can build up over time; if a cell develops too much damage to its DNA it can start to grow and multiply out of control.
There are more than 200 different types of cancer, and each is diagnosed and treated in a specific way. (See image below of some of the most popular kinds of cancer worldwide).
The list below includes some of the most-studied known or suspected risk factors for cancer.
Cancer can cause many different kinds of symptoms depending on the type of cancer. Some of the most common symptoms of cancer include a slow growing bump or lump on the body, unusual bleeding and rapid unexplained weight loss.
If your doctor suspects that you have cancer, he/she may recommend several tests, including blood tests and image tests (x-rays, ultrasound, CT-scans, MRI, etc.). In most cases, doctors need to do a biopsy to diagnose cancer. A biopsy is a procedure in which a sample of tissue is removed; it is then observed under a microscope (by a pathologist) to see if it is cancer. The sample is usually removed by a doctor using a needle, an endoscope or with surgery.
After diagnosis, another important step is staging of the cancer. Stage refers to the extent of the cancer, such as how large the tumor is, and if it has spread. The stage of cancer can help doctors understand how serious the cancer is, the prognosis for the patient, and also helps them to make the best treatment plan.
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment where medication is used to kill cancer cells. There are many different types of chemotherapy medication, but they all work to stop cancer cells from reproducing, which prevents them from growing and spreading in the body.
Chemotherapy can be given in several ways. It can be given into a vein (intravenous chemotherapy); this is usually done in hospital and involves medicine being given through a tube in a vein in your hand, arm or chest. Chemotherapy can also be given as tablets (oral chemotherapy); this usually involves taking a course of medication at home, with regular check ups in hospital. A person may be treated with one type of chemotherapy medicine or a combination of different types. Chemotherapy usually requires several treatment sessions, which is typically spread over the course of a few months.
Radiotherapy is a treatment where radiation is used to kill cancer cells. It also damages cancer cells and stop them from growing or spreading in the body. Radiotherapy can be given in three ways. 1) External radiotherapy is where a machine is used to direct high-energy rays from outside the body into the tumor. Most people get external radiation therapy over many weeks, and it is done during outpatient visits to a hospital or treatment center. 2) Radiotherapy can also be given as Internal radiation (brachytherapy), where a radioactive source is put inside the body into or near the tumor. 3) Systemic radiation is another type of radiotherapy, where radioactive drugs are given by mouth or put into a vein, which is then used to treat certain types of cancer. These drugs then travel throughout the body. The type of radiation a person receives depends on the kind of cancer they have and where it is located.
Uses and Side Effects
Chemotherapy and radiotherapy can be used to:
As well as killing cancer cells, chemotherapy and radiotherapy can damage some healthy cells in the body. Chemotherapy can cause side effects, such as: fatigue, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea and constipation and hair loss. Some side effects of radiotherapy include skin problems such as soreness, redness, and itchiness, blistering and peeling.
Unhealthy diets can increase the risk of cancers including lung, throat, stomach and colon. Foods such as processed meat, and salt preserved food can increase this risk. Although eating healthy cannot absolutely prevent you from getting cancer, fruits, vegetables, and foods high in fiber may decrease your chance.
Exercise can lower the risk of cancer (including breast and colon cancer). Exercise lowers hormones such as estrogen and insulin, reduces inflammation, and improves immune function. For sustained health benefits, try to engage in moderate intensity exercises for about 150 minutes per week, spread over 3 to 5 days.
There is consistent evidence that higher amounts of body fat are associated with increased risks of a number of cancers including stomach, pancreas, liver, kidney, thyroid and breast. Maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine can help you to maintain a healthy weight, and decrease your risk of getting cancer.
Smoking and alcohol
Smoking has been linked to various types of cancer including cancer of the lung, mouth, throat, pancreas, bladder, cervix and kidney. Chewing tobacco has been linked to cancer of the mouth and pancreas. Deciding to quit smoking tobacco is one of the best health decisions you can make.
If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation. The risk of various types of cancer including cancer of the breast, colon, lung, throat and liver increases with the amount of alcohol you drink and the length of time you've been drinking regularly.
There are screening tests currently available for cervical cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer. Women over 20 years should screen for cervical cancer by having pap smears done at least once every 3 years. Women over 49 years should also screen for breast cancer by having a mammogram done every 2 years. Persons over 49 years should also get screened for colon cancer.
Coping with Cancer
If you have been diagnosed with cancer, this may be a difficult time for you. You may click on the following links to learn more information about coping with this illness.
https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/coping and https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/coping
I hope this information on CANCER was useful; Remember YOUR HEALTH IS INVALUABLE.
By Dr. J. Lawarna Matthew
Cancer research UK
National Institute of Health (National Cancer Institute)
World Health Organization (Global Cancer Observatory)