Things you need to know about Cancer

Things you need to know about Cancer

This post is dedicated to my Aunt, who fought an advanced carcinoma of breasted the courage before parting with us. 

Cancer can be classified as a group of diseases characterised by abnormal growth of cells with the ability to invade distant and adjacent tissues or organans. Once tis abnormal growth of cells becomes largeenought and beyond the stage of surgical removal, it can even result in the death of the patient.
Cancer can affect any part of the body and may involve any type of cells.

From sixth leading cause of death, cancer has strengthened it’s hold on the reins of human lives by rising to the second rank in just a few decades worldwide. This is mainly because of the increasing number of tobacco users (smokers) and the delay in prompt early diagnosis. More than 66% are in an advanced and incurable stage at the time of diagnosis. This is where the role of screening tests comes to the the limelight. Screening tests helps in early diagnosis of most cancers. Early detection is the key to complete cure from cancer.

This article will make the concept of cancer easier for you to understand. The main contents of this article are the : different names and classification of cancer, most common cancers, causes of cancers, how to prevent cancer, importance of screening tests, prevention and treatment of cancer.

Different names of Cancer

Doctors and other healthcare professionals use a wide variety of terms while referring to cancers. If you want to understand the basic meaning of these “medical terms”, the following tables are going to do just that.

CarcinomaEpithelial cells lining the externalj and internal parts of bodyAdenocarcinoma : from mucous glands, ex: adenocarcinoma lung.
Squamous cell carcinoma
SarcomaSupportive & connective tissue like bone, cartilage, muscle, tendon and fatOsteosarcoma : bone
Chondrosarcoma : cartilage
Liposarcoma, Rhabdosarcoma
LymphomaNodes or glands of lymphatic networkHodgkins & Non Hodgkins Lymphoma
MyelomaPlasma cells of the bone marrowMultiple Myeloma
LeukemiaBone marrowMyeloid or Lymphoid leukemias depending on the line of white blood cells affected
Mixed TypeMixed tissue originAdenosquamous carcinoma, teratocarcinoma,

Another way of classifying cancer is based on their ability to spread (metastasis).

Benign Cancers : Those that are localised and do not spread to distant tissues or organs. Such cancers are mostly tumours and most of them are easily curable surgically. Examples include fibroadenoma of the breast.

Malignant Cancer : Those that spread to different parts of the body from their site of origin. Examples include : Infiltrating duct carcinoma of breast.

Most Common Cancers

Now that we know the different names of cancer, let’s take a look at the most notorious cancers all over the world.

Most common cancers globally are :

#1 lung

#2 breast and

#3 colorectal

Monst common causes of cancer deaths :

#1 lung

#2 liver

#3 stomach
Cancers common in males are : lung, prostate, colorectal, stomach and liver cancer.

Wheras, in females : breast, colorectal, cervix, uterus, lung and stomach cancer are the most common ones.

In India, the situation is a bit different though. The increased use of pan and other chewable tobacco products with the overall poor hygiene has resulted in a different trend.

The most common cancers affecting Indian men are : lung, oral, stomach, colorectal, other pharyngeal cancers.
On the other hand, in Indian women, the most common cancers are : breadt, cervix, colorectal, ovary, oral cavity.

Looking beyond India, some cancers are more common in certain geographical locations. For example,

  • Japan : Stomach cancer
    Columbia : Cervical cancer
    South-East Asian countries : Uterine and oral cancers

Causes of Cancer

  • Tobacco : Globally, 85% of lung cancers in men and 46% in women are due to smoking. Studies in India have shown that the risk for lung cancer in smokers is 9 times that of non-smokers.
  • Alcohol : One of the major causes of liver cirrhosis and subsequent liver cancer. Also associated with stomach and oesophagus cancers.
  • Dietary habits : Smoked fish, beef, high fat diet, red meat are associated with gastrointestinal cancers.
  • Occupation : Arsenic, cadmium, asbestos, benzene, chromium etc are some of the common carcinogens in various industries.
  • Virus : Hepatitis B and C are associated with Liver cancer. HIV, the AIDS virus can lead to Kaposi’s Sarcoma. Human Papilloma Virus is the main reason behind carcinoma cervix in women.
  • Parasite : Schistosomiasis can result in carcinoma of urinary bladder
  • Bacteria : Helicobacter Pylori is strongly associated with chronic gastritis which is one of the major predisposing factors of stomach cancer.
  • Sunlight : UV radiations of sunlight can cause different types of skin cancers.
  • Radiations : from X-rays and other radioactive therapies can cause a variety of cancers including leukemias and myelomas.
  • Air and water pollution
  • Medicines : Certain chemotherapeutic agents and hormones are carcinogenic.
  • Genetic : Breast and colon cancers are more commonly found in siblings. Family history of breast cancer is a risk factor for other women in the same family.

Prevention of Cancer

One third of all cancers are preventable. An easy way to prevent cancer is to stay away from the “causative agents” of cancer which have been listed above. Below is a list of things that every person can do to stay away from cancers :

  • Control the use of tobacco and alcohol. If you want some tips to quit smoking, click here.
  • Adopting healthy food habits is crucial. Avoid junk fast food, bottled and canned eatables.
  • Do some physical exercises and stay away from sedentary lifestyle.
  • Maintain good personal hygiene and adopt safe sexual practices.
  • Protect your skin from sunburns.
  • Adopt all the safety precautions if you are working in an industry where chances of exposure to carcinogens are high.
  • Promote and support vaccinations including the Hepatitis B vaccine and HPV vaccine.

Common signs of cancer every person should keep in mind and look out for are :

  1. a lump or hard area in the breast
  2. change in the size, colour or structure of a wart or mole
  3. a persistent change in digestive and bowel habits
  4. a chronic cough or hoarseness of voice
  5. excessive loos of blood during monthly periods or loss of blood outside the usual days
  6. blood loss from any natural orifice of the body
  7. a swelling or sore that doesn’t heal as expected normally
  8. unexplained weight loss

Screening Tests

Early detection of cancer in the community is of utmost importance in the prevention of cancer. This can be done with the help of simple and cost-effective tests called as “screening tests”.

Screening tests for cervical, breast and oral cancers are very effective. Screening tests for many cancers are possible because of 3 facts :

  1. In most cases, malignant and advanced stage of cancer is preceded by a pre cancerous lesion for a period of months or even years. The removal of this pre cancerous lesion will prevent subsequent development of cancer.
  2. Most cancers begin as a localised lesion before spreading to different parts of the body. If theses can be found at this stage, they can be easily cured.
  3. 75% of all cancers occur in parts of the body that are easily accessible for self or clinical examination.

Screening tests are cheap, fast and accurate. They help in early detection of cancer, thus making way to complete cure of cancers. Consult your doctor for more details of screening tests. These tests are of most importance to those persons who are at greater risk of cancers. Examples of high risk group include : positive family history of breast or oral cancer, those with multiple sexual partners. smokers, pan chewers etc.

Cancer Treatment Options

The prognosis of any kind of cancer treatment depends on the stage at which the cancer is detected. The earlier, the better. The 3 main treatment options of cancer are :

  1. Surgery : The most common and primary option for treating cancer. Most solid cancers (tumours) are surgically removable.
  2. Chemotherapy : Powerful cancer killing drugs are injected to destroy and/or reduce the size of the cancer.
  3. Radiotherapy : Controlled use of powerful radiations (like X-rays) targeted at cancer sites.

Image Credit – Vemana

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