What is cancer? This seemingly simple question would make a lot of people think a lot once they were asked it. While, due to changing environment and ageing of societies, we meet more and more people who undergo therapy, we often have no idea what is it, apart from the fact that it is deadly or harmful to our body. Every effort to educate about causes, prevention, and treatment seems then a reasonable one and we will attempt to fill out information gaps in those of you who wonder a lot about it but are afraid to ask for basics or have a hard time looking it up online.
General Information about Cancer
Cancer is a disease during which body cells start to multiply without limits. Moreover, cancer cells do not serve the specific purposes the other cells do and may spread outside of the body part they have originated from. Damaged cells are dangerous for a variety of reasons. They can either grow exponentially in one place leading to changes in organs and suppress their functions (an especially dangerous scenario in brain cancers) or spread throughout the body, leading to similar effects in the whole organism.
While we speak about cancer as one type of disease, the cells may have different origins, a way of development and effects on our bodies. It is a general category where we put all diseases which are characterised by out of control spreading of damaged cells.
We often hear about staging. This informs us how developed is it. Stage four means the most advanced phase of it, in which often palliative care is the only option of cancer treatment.
Types of Cancer
While speaking about types, firstly we can differentiate between benign and malign cancers. In benign types, damaged cells grow only in a selected body part and do not spread outside of it. For this reason, the treatment of benign cancers is relatively easy – a surgery may be sufficient. Malign cancers do not grow in one area but start to spread to other organs and tissues, deeming therapy more difficult and requiring a multilevel approach involving chemotherapy or radiation for cancer. Both malign cancers themselves and such a holistic treatment lead to a bigger threat to the patient.
Apart from this division, there are many types which are categorised depending on body parts they appear on. Still, ‘brain cancer’ is not one type. Rather, it is a general category for there are many variations of brain cancer developing from different cells, having various growth speeds and affecting the body in a different manner. To most common types of cancer belong breast cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, liver cancer and stomach cancer, though others are also increasingly prevalent due to many factors.
It may be discouraging to some people but for many types, it is hard to say what causes it. Cancer cells may appear in seemingly healthy individuals who care about their well-being. At the same time, people with bad habits may not get cancer at all. However, it is universally agreed that smoking, overuse of alcohol, unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity leading to obesity are among important causes. Additionally, some specific types can be caused by viruses, like cervix cancer which can be triggered by HPV virus.
Awareness is the key to prevention. People after a certain age are asked for screening in search of signs of popular types of cancer. For example, women are invited to make periodical check-ups for breast cancer, while men should consider regular tests for prostate cancer.
The other step in prevention is limiting bad habits which may become causes, such as smoking, excessive drinking, and lack of physical activity. If you ask yourself ‘how to prevent cancer’ – this should be your first step towards a better, healthy future.
A cancer diagnosis has two pillars. One of them is prevention which, thanks to increasing awareness, starts to give significant results in successful treatments. The second pillar of a diagnosis is being vigilant and reacting to any possible signs we spot. While there are no common symptoms in general, it is enough that we learn about signs of common types such as breast cancer, colon cancer, or lung cancer. Remember to inform your doctors about any abnormal symptoms – early diagnosis may save your life.
Thanks to ongoing cancer research, many patients can undergo a quite successful therapy, especially if they had an early cancer diagnosis. Usually, treatment consists of one or more of the following treatments:
- Cancer Surgery – by this surgery we understand a treatment where doctors remove the whole or the part of one’s cancer in order to eliminate it or stop/limit its growth.
- Chemotherapy – in chemotherapy treatment, doctors attempt to destroy damaged cells with the use of powerful drugs.
- Radiation for Cancer – radiotherapy is often a supportive treatment for patients who already underwent either surgery or chemotherapy. In radiotherapy, patients receive a dose of radiation either as a pill (internal radiotherapy) or from a machine (external radiation for cancer).
However, nowadays, thanks to cancer research conducted in numerous centres around the world, new forms of therapy, such as targeted therapy and new generations of chemotherapy are developed, promising that the cancer survivor rates will steadily increase.