Cancer is the uncontrolled division of abnormal cells. Cancer may begin anywhere in the body particularly in the skin, internal tissues or organs.
A tumor is a mass of abnormal cells. Tumors are of two types: benign tumors and malignant Tumors. Benign tumors remain localized and do not spread to neighboring tissues. They can be surgically removed and cause no harm to other organs of the body. Malignant tumors begin to spread into nearby tissues, lymph nodes or organs, disrupting their function.
Symptoms of Cancer
The symptoms vary with the type of cancer. Common symptoms include:
- A feeling of a lump anywhere in the body
- Unexpected loss or gain in weight
- Fatigue, fever, night sweats, muscle pain
- Change in color of your skin
- Trouble swallowing or breathing
- Persistent cough which does not respond to medications
- Indigestion problems and changes in bowel habits
- Unexpected bleeding, anemia, weak immunity
Causes of Cancer
Most of your body cells grow, divide and replace worn-out and damaged cells. Some cancers are hereditary. Exposure to radiation or chemicals (carcinogens) causes a change in your DNA (mutation) giving rise to abnormal cells by a process called carcinogenesis.
Common carcinogens include tobacco, asbestos, chemicals formed in deep-fried foods, alcohol, radiation (example, UV), formaldehyde (from fabrics or furniture), pollutants, and processed food.
Diagnosis of Cancer
Your doctor may order several tests to diagnose cancer including:
- Physical Examination: Your doctor physically examines for the presence of tumors, discoloration of the skin or abnormal changes in your body. Your doctor will take your medical and family history of cancer.
- Imaging Techniques: Your doctor may order an X-ray, MRI or CT-Scan.
- Endoscopy: The size and location of cancer can be visualized by endoscopy. Fiber-optic endoscopy is commonly used to diagnose cancers located inside your body.
- Biopsy: A long, thin needle is used to draw cells from the tumor into a syringe. Imaging guidance may be performed to obtain samples from deeper tissues. The abnormal cells are observed under the microscope.
- Laboratory Tests: Specific blood tests can show the presence of abnormal cells or show increased levels of certain cell types. Molecular tests can determine the presence of specific cancer-causing DNA or abnormal proteins which are absent in normal cells.
Treatment of Cancer
Treatment depends on the type of cancer, and may include:
- Chemotherapy: The use of drugs to treat cancer. The drugs may be pills or intravenous injections.
- Radiation: High energy particles or waves such as X-rays and gamma rays are used to kill or damage cancerous cells. You may receive radiation treatment for a part of your body or your entire body.
- Surgery: Tumors are removed surgically. Palliative surgery may be performed to relieve side-effects caused by tumors such as pressure on a nerve or organ.
- Targeted Cell Therapy: This involves the use of drugs which specifically target certain proteins in cancer cells to destroy them, but do not damage the other cells of the body.
- Biological Therapy: A healthy immune system is necessary to fight cancerous cells. Biological therapy involves administering interleukins or interferons (types of proteins) to naturally defend your body against cancerous cells.
- Stem Cell Transplant: This is a preferred treatment for blood cancers. Stem cells from a donor are transplanted in your bone marrow which gives rise to healthy blood cells. Chemotherapy is performed before stem cell therapy to kill all the existing cancer cells.
Following cancer treatment, you will need adequate rehabilitation. Various alternative therapies have been found to work well during and after treatment. They include:
- Physical activity such as swimming
- Art and music therapy
- Relaxation exercises and meditation
Prevention of Cancer
You may not be able to prevent cancer but you can reduce your risk of developing it by following a healthy diet and these lifestyle habits:
- Quit smoking
- Do not consume excess alcohol
- Avoid excessive sun exposure
- Regularly exercise
- Eat a nutritious diet
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Get immunized with cancer vaccines
- Regularly cancer screenings