Cancer is a group of diseases characterized by malignant neoplasm or the growth and proliferation of abnormal cells in the body. Because of the growth and division of cells that becomes uncontrollable, there is formation of malignant tumors, which invades the body organs and the nearby structures. The cancer cells also spread to other distant areas in the body by the means of blood and lymphatic circulation. Tumors that may be felt in the body are not all cancerous. Some may be benign meaning that these tumors do not invade the tissues as well as they do not grow uncontrollably thereby not causing any serious conditions.
Causes of Cancer
Cancer is caused by complex factors and is not caused by individual conditions. The exact cause of cancer is also unknown because of the complexity of its pathogenesis. What is only known are the risk factors for the disease, which include:
- Tobacco use or cigarette smoking
- Exposure to radiation
- Poor diet
- Lack of physical activity
- Environmental pollutants
These risk factors can directly alter the genes or can coexist with genetic predispositions. Up to 10% of cancers are completely hereditary.
Detection of Cancer
Cancer can be detected in various ways. The first detection for cancer is the presence of signs and symptoms. However, some cancers usually manifest when the progress and extent of the disease is advanced, thereby detecting the cancer in the latter stages, which decreases the survival rate of patients. Screening tests should be done early in order to detect the disease early. For instance, a sexually active woman should go for yearly Pap’s smear in order to screen for cervical dysplasia. Cervical Intraepithelial Neoplasia is a premalignant change in the cervix. When this is detected early through annual screening test, the tendency is it can be cured before progressing to cancer thereby improving the prognosis of patients. However, when the detection is late, the Cervical Intraepithelial Neoplasia may have progressed to cervical cancer. Aside from these, medical imaging is also used to detect the presence of tumors especially in the areas not usually screened by annual screening tests. The most definite test to determine if a tumor is cancerous is through biopsies to check the histologic characteristics of cells.
Treatment of cancer
Treatment of cancer usually involves three modalities: surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
Surgery is basically the first line of therapy of most types of cancer. This involves the removal of the malignant tumor in order to prevent the spread of the cancer cells. Surgery is also done to determine the staging of the disease.
Chemotherapy is the use cytotoxic drugs in order to kill the cancer cells. It does not only attack the abnormal cells, but the normal cells as well leading to various side-effects such as loss of hair.
Radiation involves the exposure of certain parts of the body to radioactive isotopes in order to kill cancerous cells.
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