Cancer refers to any one of a large number of diseases characterized by the development of abnormal cells that divide uncontrollably and have the ability to infiltrate and destroy normal body tissue. Often has the ability to spread throughout your body, It is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Survival rates are improving for many types of cancers, thanks to improvements in screening and treatment.
Signs and symptoms caused do vary depending on what part of the body is affected. Some general signs and symptoms associated with, but not specific, include:
- Lump or area of thickening that can be felt under the skin.
- Weight changes, including unintended loss or gain.
- Skin changes, such as yellowing, darkening or redness of the skin, sores that won’t heal, or changes to existing moles.
- Changes in bowel or bladder habits.
- Persistent cough or trouble breathing.
- Difficulty swallowing.
- Persistent indigestion or discomfort after eating.
- Persistent, unexplained muscle or joint pain.
- Persistent, unexplained fevers or night sweats.
- Unexplained bleeding or bruising.
Cancer is caused by changes (mutations) to the DNA within cells. DNA inside a cell is packaged into a large number of individual genes, each of which contains a set of instructions telling the cell what functions to perform, as well as how to grow and divide. Errors in the instructions can cause the cell to stop its normal function and may allow a cell to become cancerous.
A gene mutation can instruct a healthy cell to allow rapid growth. A gene mutation can tell a cell to grow and divide more rapidly. This creates many new cells that all have that same mutation. Normal cells know when to stop growing so that you have just the right number of each type of cell. Cells lose the controls (tumor suppressor genes) that tell them when to stop growing. Mutation in a tumor suppressor gene allows cancer cells to continue growing and accumulating.
Gene mutations can occur for several reasons, for instance, someone may be born with a genetic mutation that was inherited from parents. This type of mutation accounts for a small percentage of cancers. A number of other forces can cause gene mutations, such as smoking, radiation, viruses, cancer-causing chemicals (carcinogens), obesity, hormones, chronic inflammation and a lack of exercise.
AGE – Cancer can take decades to develop. That’s why most people diagnosed with cancer are 65 or older. While it’s more common in older adults, cancer isn’t exclusively an adult disease — cancer can be diagnosed at any age.
HABITS – Certain lifestyle choices are known to increase your risk of cancer. Smoking, drinking more than one alcoholic drink a day (for women of all ages and men older than age 65) or two drinks a day (for men age 65 and younger), excessive exposure to the sun or frequent blistering sunburns, being obese, and having unsafe sex can contribute to cancer.
FAMILY HISTORY – Only a small portion of cancers are due to an inherited condition. If cancer is common in your family, it’s possible that mutations are being passed from one generation to the next. You might be a candidate for genetic testing to see whether you have inherited mutations that might increase your risk of certain cancers. Keep in mind that having an inherited genetic mutation doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get cancer.
HEALTH CONDITIONS – Some chronic health conditions, such as ulcerative colitis, can markedly increase your risk of developing certain cancers. Talk to your doctor about your risk.
ENVIRONMENT – The environment around you may contain harmful chemicals that can increase your risk of cancer. Even if you don’t smoke, you might inhale secondhand smoke if you go where people are smoking or if you live with someone who smokes. Chemicals in your home or workplace, such as asbestos and benzene, also are associated with an increased risk of cancer.
Many cancer treatments are available. Your treatment options will depend on several factors, such as the type and stage of your cancer, your general health, and your preferences. Together you and your doctor can weigh the benefits and risks of each cancer treatment to determine which is best for you.
The goal of treatment is to achieve a cure for your cancer and to completely remove the cancer from your body or kill the cancer cells, allowing you to live a normal life span. This may or may not be possible, depending on your specific situation.
Any cancer treatment can be used as a primary treatment, but the most common primary cancer treatment for the most common cancers is surgery. If your cancer is particularly sensitive to radiation therapy or chemotherapy, you may receive one of those therapies as your primary treatment.
Palliative treatments may help relieve side effects of treatment or signs and symptoms caused by cancer itself. Surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and hormone therapy can all be used to relieve signs and symptoms. Medications may relieve symptoms such as pain and shortness of breath.
What are the Complications?
Pain – Pain can be caused by cancer or by cancer treatment, though not all cancer is painful. Medications and other approaches can effectively treat cancer-related pain.
Fatigue – Fatigue in people with cancer has many causes, but it can often be managed. Fatigue associated with chemotherapy or radiation therapy treatments is common, but it’s usually temporary.
Difficulty breathing – Cancer or cancer treatment may cause a feeling of being short of breath. Treatments may bring relief.
Nausea – Certain cancers and cancer treatments can cause nausea. Your doctor can sometimes predict if your treatment is likely to cause nausea. Medications and other treatments may help you prevent or decrease nausea.
Diarrhea or constipation – Cancer and cancer treatment can affect your bowels and cause diarrhea or constipation.
Weight loss – Cancer and cancer treatment may cause weight loss. Cancer steals food from normal cells and deprives them of nutrients. This is often not affected by how many calories or what kind of food is eaten; it’s difficult to treat. In most cases, using artificial nutrition through tubes into the stomach or vein does not help change the weight loss.
Chemical changes in your body – Cancer can upset the normal chemical balance in your body and increase your risk of serious complications. Signs and symptoms of chemical imbalances might include excessive thirst, frequent urination, constipation and confusion.
Brain and nervous system problems – Cancer can press on nearby nerves and cause pain and loss of function of one part of your body. Cancer that involves the brain can cause headaches and stroke-like signs and symptoms, such as weakness on one side of your body.
Cancer that spreads – As cancer advances, it may spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. Where cancer spreads depends on the type of cancer.
Cancer survivors have a risk of cancer recurrence. Some cancers are more likely to recur than others.
There’s no certain way to prevent cancer. But doctors have identified several ways of reducing your cancer risk, such as:
- Stop smoking; If you smoke, quit. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. Smoking is linked to several types of cancer — not just lung cancer. Stopping now will reduce your risk of cancer in the future.
- Avoid excessive sun exposure; Harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun can increase your risk of skin cancer. Limit your sun exposure by staying in the shade, wearing protective clothing or applying sunscreen.
- Eat a healthy diet; Choose a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Select whole grains and lean proteins.
- Exercise most days of the week; Regular exercise is linked to a lower risk of cancer. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. If you haven’t been exercising regularly, start out slowly and work your way up to 30 minutes or longer.
- Maintain a healthy weight; Being overweight or obese may increase your risk of cancer. Work to achieve and maintain a healthy weight through a combination of a healthy diet and regular exercise.
- Drink alcohol in moderation, if you choose to drink; If you choose to drink alcohol, limit yourself to one drink a day if you’re a woman of any age or a man older than age 65, or two drinks a day if you’re a man 65 years old or younger.
- Schedule cancer screening exams; Talk to your doctor about what types of cancer screening exams are best for you based on your risk factors.
Ask your doctor about immunizations. Certain viruses increase your risk of cancer. Immunizations may help prevent those viruses, including hepatitis B, which increases the risk of liver cancer, and human papillomavirus (HPV), which increases the risk of cervical cancer and other cancers.