What exactly is cancer? How many types of cancer are there? Are all cancers fatal? What are the symptoms? How is it treated? How does cancer progress? You can find the answers to all these questions and much more below.
What is cancer?
Cancer is a general term for a group of diseases that occur when there is uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in one or more of the body’s organs or tissues. Cancer is a serious disease and is one of the leading causes of death globally according to the World Health Organization .
Common types of cancer include:
- bladder cancer
- breast cancer
- bowel cancer
- Endometrial cancer
- liver cancer
- Lung cancer
- Melanoma ( skin cancer )
- non-Hodgkin lymphoma
- Prostate cancer
- Kidney cell cancer (kidney cancer)
- thyroid cancer
Normally, old or damaged cells in the body stop dividing and die. These cells are replaced by healthy young cells. Cancer occurs when old or damaged cells continue to divide and multiply uncontrollably. This causes the development of a malignant tumor or other abnormality that interferes with the functioning of the affected organ or tissue.
Cancer cells recruit or destroy healthy cells and, if left untreated, can continue to multiply and spread to other tissues and organs of the body – a process called metastasis . As cancer progresses, it interferes with the vital processes and functions of the organ where it started and the organs from which it has spread, such as the brain, lungs, bones, and liver.
There are two main types of cancer:
- Primary cancer refers to a malignant tumor arising from a certain body tissue, such as lung cancer or breast cancer.
- Secondary cancer (metastatic cancer) is caused by cancer that starts in one tissue or organ of the body and spreads to another area. For example, lung cancer or breast cancer can spread to the brain, causing secondary brain cancer. Cancer can metastasize by growing directly into nearby tissues and organs, or by spreading to other parts of the body through the circulatory or lymphatic system.
Cancer can lead to life-threatening complications and can be fatal , especially if left undetected and untreated . The course of cancer varies according to the type of cancer and the stage of progression. Your age, medical history and co-existing health conditions or diseases, and other factors determine the course of cancer. Seeking regular medical care offers the chance to discover cancer at its earliest, most curable stage. If you have cancer, following your treatment plan can help reduce your risk of serious complications.
Cancer occurs when a genetic mutation causes old or damaged cells to continue dividing and multiply uncontrollably. The underlying cause varies depending on the specific type of cancer. In most cases, the underlying cause of the cancer is unknown.
Some causes of cancer include:
- Inherited genes that increase susceptibility to cancer
- Environmental factors, including pollution and exposure to certain chemicals, such as those found in tobacco
- Certain types of viruses or bacteria (such as HPV)
- Exposure to excessive radiation or sunlight
Cancer: Risk factors
Risk factors for cancer vary depending on the specific type of cancer. Not everyone with risk factors will develop cancer, and some people without risk factors may develop cancer.
Common risk factors for cancer include:
- advancing age
- Alcohol addiction (alcoholism)
- Chronic hepatitis B or C infection
- High-fat, low-fiber eating habits
- Excessive consumption of foods cooked in excessive salt and embers
- unsafe sexual intercourse
- excessive sun exposure
- Epstein-Barr virus
- Excess weight (obesity)
- Family or personal history of cancer
- To smoke
- Toxic environmental exposure
Cancer: Reducing the risk
You can reduce your risk of developing some types of cancer by:
- Eating small amounts of fatty, salty and smoked foods
- Consuming lots of fiber-rich foods, fruits and vegetables
- maintaining a healthy weight
- Not drinking or drinking small amounts of alcohol
- do regular exercise
- quit smoking
- limiting sun exposure
- using sunscreen
Cancer symptoms vary depending on the specific type of cancer, its location, stage of progression, and other factors. Many cancers do not cause any symptoms in the early stages. In some cases, symptoms do not appear until the cancer is at an advanced stage and has spread to other organs and tissues.
Cancer symptoms are caused either by the pressure exerted by the cancer at the site of its origin or spread, by the affected organ, or by cancer cells that produce abnormal substances.
Specific symptoms by cancer type include:
- Bladder cancer symptoms include pain with urination and bloody urine (hematuria) .
- Brain cancer symptoms include headaches and memory difficulties.
- Breast cancer symptoms include breast lump and nipple discharge.
- Bowel cancer symptoms include stool and rectal bleeding .
- Endometrial cancer symptoms include abnormal uterine bleeding.
- Symptoms of lung cancer include shortness of breath and coughing up blood (hemoptysis).
- Melanoma symptoms include an unusual mole on the skin.
- Symptoms of pancreatic cancer include jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin) and abdominal pain .
- Prostate cancer symptoms include difficulty urinating.
Cancer treatment begins with seeking regular medical care throughout your life. Regular medical care allows a healthcare professional to best provide early screening tests such as mammography, Pap smear, digital rectal exam, and stool occult blood tests. Regular medical care also provides an opportunity for your healthcare provider to assess your symptoms and risk of developing cancer, and to order diagnostic testing immediately. These measures can increase the chances of detecting cancer at its earliest, most curable stage.
The goal of cancer treatment is to permanently cure the cancer or achieve remission. Remission means that although the cancer may later recur or recur, there are no longer any signs of the disease in the body.
Cancer treatment plans use a multifaceted approach that is personalized to the type of cancer and its stage of progression. Things like your age, medical history, and co-existing diseases or conditions are among the factors that determine your cancer treatment plan.
Cancer treatment is usually planned and administered by a team of experts in cancer care. These specialists often include medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, surgical oncologists, and registered nurses who specialize in cancer care.
Cancer treatment may include some combination of the following:
- Dietary counseling to help people with cancer maintain their strength and nutritional status
- pain relievers
- Palliative care to improve overall quality of life for families and patients with serious illnesses
- Participation in clinical research to test promising new treatments for cancer
- Physical therapy to help strengthen the body, increase alertness, reduce fatigue, and improve functional ability during and after cancer treatment
- radiation therapy
- Regular follow-up care to monitor your treatment and progress and address any issues or complications promptly
- Surgery to remove a cancerous tumor or to treat cancer complications such as bowel obstruction
Cancer: complementary therapies
Some complementary therapies can help some people better cope with their cancer and its treatments. Sometimes called alternative treatments, these treatments are used in conjunction with traditional medical treatments. Complementary therapies are not intended to replace conventional medical care. If you are taking nutritional supplements or homeopathic (over-the-counter) remedies, be sure to tell your doctor as they may interact with the prescribed medical treatment.
Complementary treatments may include:
- massage therapy
- Nutritional dietary supplements, herbal medicines and similar products
Cancer: Hospice care
In cases where the cancer progresses to an advanced stage and becomes unresponsive to treatment, the aim of treatment is to move away from curing the disease and focus on treating the person. The aim of hospice care is to help people in the final stages of an incurable disease live as fully and comfortably as possible. Hospice care includes medically controlling pain and other symptoms while providing psychological and moral support, as well as services to support the patient’s family.
Cancer: Possible complications
Possible complications of cancer are serious and can be life-threatening. Possible complications of cancer include:
- Complications from treatment, such as serious infections and suppression of the immune system
- Metastasis (spread) of primary cancer to another tissue or organ in the body
- organ failure
- Recurrence of cancer after treatment
- severely felt pain
By following the treatment plan that you and your healthcare team have designed specifically for you, you can best treat cancer and reduce your risk of complications.