Understanding Cancer

Cancer, also called Malignancy, is an abnormal growth of cells.

  • What is Cancer?
  • What causes Cancer?
  • Signs of Cancer
  • Stages of Cancer
  • Types of Cancer
  • What is Metastasis?
  • Myths about Cancer
  • What to ask your doctor?

What is Cancer?

Cancer is the term given to a group of diseases that are characterized by abnormal division of cells in an uncontrolled way. In some cancers, these abnormally and rapidly multiplying cells travel to other parts of the body.

What causes Cancer?

Inspite of the rising number of cancer cases, there is no single definitive cause of cancer. However, like any other disease, a combination of genetic, hereditary, environmental and lifestyle factors are said to cause cancer. The common risk factors are:

  • Smoking
  • Tobacco
  • UV Radiation
  • Alcohol
  • Infectious agents
  • Obesity
  • Unhealthy eating habits
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Pollution and pollutants
  • Hormones
  • Chemicals at work place
  • Increasing age

Signs of Cancer

When it comes to cancer, the signs and symptoms can be confused with those of other diseases. In fact, many cancers are symptomless. Sometimes, paying close attention to subtle body changes can be the best way to discover that something is not right. It is always advised to visit your doctor in case you find some unusual changes in your body that are unexplainable.

But, to simplify the understanding, there are a signs that you can watch out for:

  • Persistent cough that stays for longer than 3 weeks; chest pain while coughing with colored sputum.
  • A lump in the breast that is increasing; change in the size of the breast and position of the nipple.
  • Unexplained bleeding, such as vomiting blood, blood in the urine or stool, vaginal bleeding during non-menstruation days.
  • Change in bowel movements, feeling of fullness in the stomach in spite of having gone to the toilet, pain in the stomach and back, persistent bloating, loss of weight and appetite.

Stages of Cancer

Cancer staging is a way of conveying the size and spread of cancer. Staging of cancer is important as it helps to determine the treatment plan for that particular lesion.

There are two main types of staging systems: TNM and number system.

According to the number system, cancer stages are divides into 4 broad stages (they are further divided into A, B, C & other.)

Stage 1 usually means that the cancer is relatively small and has not spread from the origin organ/area.

Stage 2 means the cancer is usually larger in size than stage 1 but it has not spread to surrounding tissues.

Stage 3 usually means that the cancer is larger than in stage 2. It may have started to spread to nearby surrounding tissues and lymph nodes.

Stage 4 means that the cancer has now advanced and has spread to other parts of the body.

Types of Cancer

There are more than 100 types of cancers. Cancers are usually named after the organ or tissues from where they are formed; but they may also be described by the type of cell that form them. Some of the common types of cancer are:

  • Adrenal gland cancer
  • Bile duct cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Bowel cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Cancers of unknown primary
  • Cervical cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Endometrial cancer
  • Gall Bladder cancer
  • Gastro-intestinal Stroma cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Mesothelioma
  • Neuro-endocrine cancer
  • Oesophagal cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Rectal cancer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Thymic tumors
  • Urological cancers
  • Vaginal cancer 

Please refer to our cancer guides for further information about your type of cancer and do not hesitate to discuss further with your doctor.

What is Metastasis?

Metastasis is a term given to cancer when it spreads to other parts of the body.

Metastasized cancer develops when cancer cells from the main tumor break off and travel via blood or lymph to other parts of the body and begin to multiple.

Myths about Cancer

As the fear among people increases about the disease, there are an increasing number of myths associated with it. Some of the most common myths and misconception about cancer include:

  • Is cancer contagious? – In general no. However, some cancers are caused by viruses and bacteria.
  • Positive thinking, will cure my cancer – there is no convincing evidence to suggest a person’s attitude has any links to them developing or getting cured of cancer. However, a positive attitude will help improve your quality of life during your cancer treatment.
  • Being diagnosed with cancer, means I will die soon – Cancer is not a death sentence. Advanced diagnosis and treatment have increased survival rates of most common types of cancers.
  • If no one in my family has cancer, I will be cancer free – No. Only 5-10% of cancers are hereditary. Most cancers are caused by genetic changes that occur in a person due to their environment, natural process of aging, and their habits like smoking,, alcohol etc.
  • If someone in my family has cancer, I will surely get cancer – Not necessarily, although it could increase your risk of developing cancer. Only 5-10% of cancers are hereditary or familial.
  • Usage of mobile phones causes cancer – There is no evidence to suggest that low frequency energy from mobile phones cause genetic mutations.
  • Herbal products can cure cancer – No herbal products have been scientifically proven to cure cancer. However, some herbal products may help to cope with the side effects of cancer treatment.
  • Deodorants and antiperspirants cause cancer - No, there is no established evidence to prove this.
  • Use of artificial sweeteners can cause cancer – There is no conclusive evidence to suggest that artificial sweeteners or food additives cause cancer.

What to ask your doctor?

About your Diagnosis - The type of cancer, its stage, spread of the disease, tests needed, seriousness of the disease and chances of survival.

About your treatment

• Benefits and risks associated with treatment.
• Which treatment is recommended and why?
• When will the treatment start?
• Is there any need for hospitalization and for how long?
• What are the chances of recovery and remission with this treatment.
• Would a clinical trial be right for me?
• How will I know if my treatment is effective?
• Will I need a specialist for my cancer treatment?
• How many sessions of treatment will I need, etc.

Other questions - one may ask the doctor can be regarding side effects of the treatment, or drugs, about the post-operative care and advanced cancer care.

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