Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Prevention & Treatments

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Scientifically referred to as malignancy, cancer is a medical condition where cells grow abnormally anywhere in a body. These abnormally growing body cells are called tumor cells, malignant cells or cancer cells. Including breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, throat cancer, and lymphoma, there are over 100 different types of cancer. Symptoms for these widely vary depending upon the type of cancer.

Types of Cancer:

Some of the most common types of cancer are:

  • Carcinoma: This type of cancer affects skin, colon, pancreas, ovary or lungs. Some common forms of carcinoma cancer are epithelial, Adenomas, Papillomas, Melanomas, and squamous and basal cell carcinomas.
  • Sarcoma: This type of cancer affects bones, fat, cartilages, blood vessels, muscles, or soft body tissues. Some of the common forms of sarcoma are fibrosarcoma, rhabdosarcoma, synovial sarcoma, osteosarcoma, liposarcoma and angiosarcoma.
  • Leukemia: This type of cancer affects blood-forming tissues and bone marrow. Some of the most common type of leukemia are hairy-cell leukemia, myelogenous leukemias (AML and CML), lymphoblastic leukemias (ALL and CLL) and T-cell leukemia.
  • Lymphoma and Myeloma: This type of cancer affects the immune system. Some of the most common forms of this cancer are B-cell lymphomas, T-cell lymphomas, lymphoproliferative lymphomas, Hodgkin lymphomas and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
  • Nervous System Cancers : This type of cancer affects the nervous system, brain tissues and spinal cord. Some of the most common form of this cancer are primitive neuroectodermal tumors, pituitary adenomas, primary CNS lymphomas, brain and spinal cord tumors, meningiomas and gliomas.

Cancer Symptoms and Signs:

Signs and symptoms of cancer vary as per the type of body part affected. Here is a some general signs and symptoms of cancer.

  • Extreme Fatigue
  • Lump under the skin
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain
  • Damp, pale skin (in some cases skin become patchy, yellow or red with sores that don’t heal easily)
  • Persistent problem in bowel or bladder
  • Unrelenting cough
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Hoarse voice
  • Regular indigestion
  • Muscle or join pain
  • Fevers
  • Bleeding

Causes of Cancer:

The major cause of cancer is abnormal growth of cells in any body part. There are a number of things that can lead to cell abnormalities. While some types of cancer may develop genetically, some may develop due to one more cause. It is important to understand that there are some cancer causes that are still unknown.

Here is a list of just some of the many major causes that may lead to development of cancer:

  • Exposure to certain toxic compounds or chemicals aflatoxin, nickel, cadmium, asbestos, Benzene, benzidine, vinyl chloride, N-nitrosamines, cigarette smoke].
  • Exposure to ionizing radiation [ultraviolet rays, Uranium, radon, alpha, beta, gamma radiations]
  • Exposure to pathogens: [EBV Epstein-Barr virus, Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpes virus (KSHV), Human papillomavirus (HPV), hepatitis viruses B and C, Schistosoma spp., Helicobacter pylori and Merkel cell polyomavirus]
  • Genetics Causes [prostate, skin, breast, ovarian, colorectal and melanoma].

Risk Factors related to Cancer:

  • Age – Cancer, typically, takes many years to develop. In many cases, it is diagnosed at the age of 65 years or above. Though cancer is known to affect people in older age, it is not uncommon to see younger adults diagnosed with the disease too.
  • Lifestyle – Certain lifestyle habits such as smoking or drinking may increase the risk of cancer. In addition, too much sun exposure, frequent sunburns, obesity and even unsafe sex can increase the risk of cancer.
  • Family History – Though it is not too common, those with family history of cancer may get affected by this disease. In such cases, it makes sense to go for genetic testing.
  • Health Issues – Chronic health issues including (but not limited to) ulcerative colitis may lead to the risk of cancers.
  • Surrounding & Environment – Pollution, exposure to harmful chemicals and toxic environmental conditions may increase the risk of cancer.

Prevention of Cancer:

While there is no scientifically proven way to prevent cancer cells from developing in one’s body, there are a few precautionary steps one may take to prevent the complications of this disease.  Here is a list of some such things:

  • Quit Smoking – Smoking is one of the major reasons of cancer worldwide. It makes sense to quit smoking to reduce the risk of cancer.
  • Excessive Sun Exposure – Too much exposure to sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays may lead to skin cancer. Therefore, it makes sense to avoid too much exposure to sun by wearing protective clothing and applying sunscreen lotions.
  • Healthy Eating Habits – Healthy eating habits may go a long way in reducing the risk of cancer. Ensure that your diet includes fresh fruits, green vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins.
  • Regular Work Out – Keeping fit is yet another easy and effective way to reduce the risk of cancer. It is essential to exercise daily for at least 30 minutes.
  • Healthy Weight – Obesity or excessive body weight may increase the risk of cancer. It is important to ensure that your body weight is in proportion with your height.
  • Alcohol Consumption – Like smoking, consumption of alcohol may lead to cancer. It is important to avoid drinking too much. In fact, medicinal experts suggest to avoid consuming alcohol altogether to reduce the risk of cancer.
  • Cancer Screening – It is important to ensure screening of cancer, especially if you have a family history.
  • Immunizations – Certain type of viruses may lead to the risk of cancer. Therefore, it makes sense to consult a certified medical professional to ensure immunization against such viruses.

Diagnosis of Cancer:

There are several ways to diagnose cancer. Listed below are just some of the many ways:

  • Physical Examination – Doctors may examine the areas of the body that may affected by looking for a lump or tumor. Also, doctors may look for a certain abnormalities including skin issues or organ enlargement to diagnose cancer.
  • Lab Tests – Urine or blood tests may be performed to identify abnormalities that may lead to cancer.
  • Imaging Tests – Imaging tests is a noninvasive way of examining internal organs and bones. This test includes positron emission tomography (PET) scan, ultrasound, X-ray, bone scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computerized tomography (CT) scan.
  • Biopsy – Biopsy tests are performed by collecting samples of body cells for lab tests. There are several ways of conducting a biopsy and a certified medical professional or a doctor may help you identify which type of biopsy test would be suitable. Biopsy is, by far, the best way to diagnose cancer.

Different Stages of Cancer:

Upon the diagnosis of cancer, certified medical professionals can help one determine the stage of the disease. Stage of cancer is identified to decide the course of treatment and to evaluate the chances of cure.

Diagnosis of cancer stages often includes imaging tests (bone scans or X-rays). This is done to see if the cancer cells have spread to other body parts or not. Different stages of cancer are illustrated by Roman numerals (I through IV). The higher the numeral is, the more advanced is the disease.

Treatment of Cancer:

Treatment of cancer may involve:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Stem cell transplant
  • Immunotherapy
  • Hormone therapy
  • Targeted drug therapy

Complications in Cancer:

Cancer and often the medicines and treatment involved in the prevention or cure of this disease can lead to several complications. Some of the many such complications are listed below:

  • Body Ache/Pain (in the affected body part)
  • Extreme Fatigue
  • Breathing Difficulty
  • Nausea
  • Constipation or Diarrhoea
  • Unexplained Loss of Weight
  • Hormonal/Chemical Changes in Body
  • Complications in Brain or Nervous System
  • Spreading of the disease
  • Cancer Recurrence

Myths Related to Cancer:

Myth #1: Cancer is a contagious disease.

Cancer is not a contagious disease. Cancer cannot be spread from one person to another. However, in the event of an organ or tissue transplantation, one may develop cancer from a donor, who may have been diagnosed with cancer earlier. Also, certain communicable viruses may increase the risk of the disease. For example, Hepatitis B or C can lead to the risk of liver cancer if spread through sexual intercourse or infected needles. Another example of such disease is Human papillomavirus (HPV). It is a sexually-transmitted disease that increases the risk of cervical cancer.

Myth #2: Consuming sugar fastens the growth of cancer cells

Though scientific research has proven that cancer cells absorb more sugar as against normal body cells, no concrete evidence has yet been found that confirms that consuming sugar fastens the growth of cancer cells in the body. But here is something one must remember, consuming too much sugar can lead to excess weight gain, which may lead to diabetes and those diagnosed with diabetes are often at higher risk of developing cancer.

Myth #3: Biopsy or Surgery makes cancer cells spread in the body

Though this is very much possible, not many such cases have been brought to light till date. The chances of getting cancer cells spread in the body due to biopsy or surgery are extremely low. Certified medical professionals do take utmost caution to ensure that these medical procedures do not aggravate the growth of cancer cells in the body.

Myth #4: Cancer occurs due to medical history of the disease in the family

While it is true that those with family history of cancer are a greater risk of developing this disease, anyone can get affected by this disease with or without any family history. It is important to understand that cancer cells typically occur due to genetic mutations. This means one may inherit gene mutations from parents, but may also experience gene mutations due to a lot of other factors including smoking, radiation or exposure to a certain radiations or chemicals. Even obesity and diabetes may lead to gene mutations and eventually cancer.

Myth #5: Can dyeing hair cause cancer

No! Though some people claim to have developed cancer due to regular exposure to hair dye, there is no scientific evidence that proves it.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

1) Can an injury cause cancer?

Ans: No. But it important to remember that, in some rare cases, sunburn, or burn scars may eventually lead to cancer. Often, skin cancer actually starts with a burn scar.

2) Can stress cause cancer?

Ans: No. There is no scientific evidence proving that stress or tension may increase the risk of or actually cause cancer.

3) Is cancer a contagious disease?

Ans: No. Cancer is not a contagious disease and cannot be spread from one person to another.

4) Can cancer be cured completely?

Ans: This actually depends upon the type of cancer. Some cancers may be cured completely; whereas, some cannot be cured completely.

5) Can radiation cause cancer?

Ans: Radiation is used to treat cancer. However, radiation can prove to be life-threatening and may lead to cancer if not handled properly. Too much exposure to atomic radiations or X-rays may lead to the development of cancer cells in the body.

6) Is it possible to prevent cancer?

Ans: There are some types of cancer that may be prevented such as mouth cancer, lung cancer and throat cancer. Certain type of cancers that develop in the body because of the exposure to certain chemicals can also be prevented.

7) What is the best treatment for cancer?

Ans: It depends on a several factors such as types of cancer, stage of cancer and the health status of the patient, etc. While some types of cancer can be treated with a surgery, some may require radiation or chemotherapy. Some types of cancer can be treated with medication. However, it has been seen that mostly all the three ways of treatment are usually required to treat cancer.

8) Does the treatment of cancer vary as per age?

Ans: Yeah! Treatment of cancer may be different for people for different age groups. However, a lot of factor, in addition to the age of the patient, are carefully considered over by the doctors before deciding the treatment method.

9) How to manage weight during and after the treatment of cancer?

Ans: Treatment of cancer may lead to an excessive weight loss. Therefore, it makes sense for cancer patients to east a lot of fruits, vegetables, whole grain and protein. Light exercise is also prescribed to those undergoing cancer treatments.

10) Are there any herbal products that can cure cancer?

Ans: No! There are no herbal products that can cure the disease of cancer. However, a few alternative therapies may help cancer patients prevent the side effects of cancer treatment.


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