0

Know Your Cancer

The increasing incidence of cancer is resounding the importance of cancer literacy. Cancer knowledge is pivotal for prevention, early detection and treatment.

Cancer is not one single disease. It is a single name belonging to a cluster of diseases. Diseases related by their cause of origin but differing by factors affecting the cause, nature of severity, site of origin, and several other characteristics.

Cancer can originate in any cell of the body. The human body is made up of trillions of cells categorized into different divisions. Any of these cells can turn cancerous at any time due to a malfunction in the DNA.

Every cell in the body contains strains of DNA that act as the control center for the cell. It’s the DNA that regulates the life-cycle of a cell. Usually, normal cells follow a pre-programmed cycle of growth, division, and death. Cell-death happens, when the cells get old or damaged, through a process called ‘cellular suicide’ or apoptosis.

But sometimes, a mutation in the DNA can induce the cells to evade the process of apoptosis or self-death. These cells continue to grow abnormally and uncontrollably thus turning into malignant cancerous cells. These cells often accumulate to form a tumor.

Information About Cancer

Cancer refers to a large cluster of diseases characterized by the development of abnormal cells that divide uncontrollably and have the ability to infiltrate and destroy normal body tissue.

A malicious mutation in the gene can instruct the cell to

  • Grow rapidly
  • Lose control over cell death
  • Make mistakes when repairing DNA errors

Benign and Malignant Tumors

Not all tumors are cancerous and neither all cancers form tumors.

Tumors that do not spread or invade nearby tissues are referred as benign tumors. They are usually not life-threatening; they do not usually recur after removal and they never spread to other parts of the body. It’s a hard mass of cells that can sometimes grow large enough to press against other body parts.

However, the malignant or cancerous tumors have the capability to grow and spread to distant organs in the body. They can be aggressive, invasive and life-threatening.  Malignant cancer cells can reappear in any part of the body even after complete treatment.

Some malignant cancers are aggressive and they have the capability to spread to distant organs of the body, these cancers are called metastatic cancer and the process by which these cells spread out is termed as metastasis.

Usually, this happens at a much later stage when the cancer grows beyond the site of origin. Metastasized cancers are difficult to treat and in most cases of metastasized cancers the doctors target to inhibit the growth and relieve the symptoms.

Let’s understand what happens in metastasis.

As the cancerous cells continue to grow uncontrollably, some cells may travel to other parts of the body through blood stream or lymphatic system. These cells continue to grow resulting in new tumors. This is called metastasis of cancer.

Tumors formed in distant sites are also named after the area of origin. E.g. if breast cancer spreads to the lungs then cancer in the lung is called metastatic breast cancer, not lung cancer.

This is because the metastatic cancer cells generally look the same as cells of original cancer. In almost all cases, they have similar molecular features and the cells replicate specific chromosome changes.

Usually, metastasis occurs at an advanced stage of cancer. In some cases, treatment can prolong life expectancy, but in others, it helps to control the growth of cancer or relieve the symptoms caused by it.

One certain cause of cancer is genetic. The malfunction in the genetic programming can be inherited from parents, but genetic reasons contribute to only 5- 10% of all cancer cases around the world.

In most cases, these mutations arise due to errors in cell division caused by environmental exposure or lifestyle factors.

 

Some common causes of cancer are:

  • Tobacco and alcohol
  • Exposure to carcinogens
  • Obesity
  • Poor nutrition
  • Hormones
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • UV rays of the sun

 

Most cases of cancer are preventable. In fact, researchers claim 50 % of cancer cases can be prevented by adopting a healthy lifestyle.

Several risk factors of cancer are now identified. Scientists have labeled many substances as carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) and many are categorized as probable carcinogens. Some of the common risk factors cited by doctors are –

  1. Age – For most cancers, the risk increases with age. However, there are some cancers that are more common in children and adults.
  2. Lifestyle – Unhealthy sedentary lifestyle is a major risk factor for cancer.
  3. Family history – Genetic mutations can be inherited from parents.
  4. Medical conditions – Medical conditions like diabetes, PCOD, can increase cancer risk.
  5. Environment – Carcinogens like asbestos, benzene, passive smoking etc. are risk factors for cancer.

In all cancers there is one basic similarity – they occur due to a mutation in the DNA. But each cancer in each patient is different from the other and that makes the treatment and management of cancer so complex.

Cancers may be aggressive or slow in nature. They respond to treatment in different ways. Some cancers are more likely to recur than another. For some the fatality rate is high and for some the survival rate is high!

Thus, depending on several such factors cancers are categorized into more than 200 types.

Depending on the site of origin, type of cells or nature of the cancer, cancer is categorized into several types. Most cancer types are named after the organs or tissues they arise from. For example, lung cancer begins in the cells of the lungs, pancreatic cancer arises from the cells of the pancreas.
(Read more about different cancer types)
Some of the categories of cancer are:

1.       Carcinoma

Carcinomas are the most common type of cancers. They begin in the cells of skin or tissues covering the surface of internal organs and glands. Most carcinomas form solid tumors. Depending on the cell type, they are further divided into –

  • Adenocarcinoma is cancer that originates in the epithelial cells of the body. Cancers of the breast, colon, and prostate are adenocarcinomas.
  • Basal cell carcinoma begins in the basal (base) layer of the epidermis, the outer layer of skin.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma forms beneath the outer surface of the skin. These cells are also present in the stomach, intestines, lungs, bladder, and kidneys.
  • Transitional cell carcinoma occurs in the linings of the bladder, ureters, and part of the kidneys and a few other organs.

2.       Sarcoma

Sarcomas begin in the cells that connect or supports the body. They are found in the cells of bone and soft tissues, like muscle, fat, blood vessels, lymph vessels, cartilage, tendons and ligaments.

3.       Leukemia

Leukemia is the cancer of the blood. It forms in the cells of the blood-forming bone marrows. Leukemias do not form solid tumors but they are malignant and dangerous.

There are four main types of leukemia – acute lymphocytic leukemia, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, acute myeloid leukemia, and chronic myeloid leukemia.

4.         Lymphomas

Lymphoma arises in the lymphatic system, it’s a network of vessels and glands that help fight infection. Lymphomas are of 2 types: Hodgkin Lymphoma and non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.

Other Types of Tumors:

§  Germ Cell Tumors – They begin in the cells of sperms or eggs. These tumors can be benign or malignant and can occur at any site.

§  Neuroendocrine Tumors – These tumors form in the cells that release hormones into the blood.

§  Carcinoid Tumors – these are slow-growing tumors usually found in the gastrointestinal system.

Many innovative solutions are now available to treat and manage cancer in a better way. Cancer treatment is decided by the oncologist along with a team of doctors considering several factors like age, stage, outlook, previous health history, and preference of the patient.

The most common treatment options opted are:

  • Surgery – Surgery is the most preferred treatment option for most cancers. It removes the cancer cells by removing the organ partially or completely.
  • Chemotherapy– Chemotherapy uses certain drugs to kill or inhibit the growth of cancerous cells.
  • Hormone therapy – Many cancer types are caused by an imbalance in the hormone. This can be corrected with hormone therapy.
  • Immunotherapy – It uses drugs that employs the body’s immune system to inhibit or kill cancer cells.
  • Radiation therapy – It uses high-dose radiation to kill cancerous cells. It may be recommended before or after surgery to remove or reduce the cancerous cells.
  • Stem cell transplant – It is beneficial for people with blood-related cancers. It involves removing the red or white blood cells damaged in chemotherapy or radiation. These cells are then strengthened and put back into the body.
  • Targeted therapies – This is the use of specific drugs that target specialized cancer cells and prevent them from multiplying.
  • Adjuvant therapy – This is post-treatment care to ensure good health and uplift the quality of living in cancer patients. Adjuvant therapies are also important when there is a high risk of recurrence.

Doctors may employ one or a combination of these treatments to ensure the eradication of cancer cells.

The cancer dictionary

  • Benign: non-cancerous tumor.
  • Malignant: cancerous tumor.
  • Cancer: cells growing abnormally and uncontrollably.
  • Metastasized: Cancer spread to distant organs.
  • Biopsy: scraping some cells to check cancerous changes.
  • Chemotherapy: the use of drugs to treat cancer.
  • Oncologist:a doctor who treats cancer.
  • Radiation therapy: using high-energy x-rays to treat cancer.
  • Remission: re-occurrence of cancer cells.
  • Stage: the severity and spread of cancer.
  • Adjuvant therapy: Post-treatment cancer care.

 

Cancer Care

Cancer is a complex cluster of diseases that presents unique features in each patient. With years of research and studies, doctors are able to understand a lot about this disease, yet a lot remains unknown.

The current knowledge of cancer enables us to treat, manage, and even cure several cancer types. But further studies are being conducted to understand the causes, preventives, risk factors, and less invasive treatment procedures.

10 Facts About Cancer

  • Currently, Cancer is one of the leading causes of death across the world.

  • Most of these deaths by cancer could have been prevented.

  • About 70% of all cancer deaths are recorded in low and middle-income countries.

  • Less than 30% of low-income countries have access to cancer treatment services.

  • Only 14% of cancer patients have access to palliative care.
  • 20% of all cancers worldwide is caused by chronic infections like HPV or HBV.

  • About 77% of cancers are diagnosed in people who are 55 years old or older.

  • Tobacco is the largest preventable cause of cancer in the world causing 22% of cancer deaths.

  • Cancer patients in need of pain relief can be helped with the current knowledge about pain control and palliative care.

  • There is a steady drop in cancer mortality mostly due to advances in early detection and treatment.

Cancer Type

Adrenal Cancer

Bile Duct Cancer

Bladder Cancer

Bone Cancer

Brain Cancer (Adult)

Brain Cancer (Child)

Breast Cancer

Cancer in Children

Adrenal Cancer

Bile Duct Cancer

Bladder Cancer

Bone Cancer

Brain Cancer (Adult)

Brain Cancer (Child)

Breast Cancer

Cancer in Children

Adrenal Cancer

Bile Duct Cancer

Bladder Cancer

Bone Cancer

Brain Cancer (Adult)

Brain Cancer (Child)

Breast Cancer

Cancer in Children

Adrenal Cancer

Bile Duct Cancer

Bladder Cancer

Bone Cancer

Brain Cancer (Adult)

Brain Cancer (Child)

Breast Cancer

Cancer in Children