Cancer is a class of diseases characterized by fast and uncontrollable cell growth. Depending on the type of cells affected by the disease, researchers identify more than 100 different cancer types. Over the years, numerous researches were carried out to define causes of the disease, new ways to diagnose it, possible risk groups, and possible treatment.
Cells affected by cancer begin to divide uncontrollably and form lumps or tumors. These can grow on their own and intervene with the work of circulatory, nervous and digestive systems. A malignant tumor occurs when the cancerous cell moves through the body and destroys healthy tissues. A tumor might metastasize it means that it has spread to different parts of the body and increased in size, destroying the healthy cells (Mills, 2007). Cancer is classified into five main groups: carcinomas, sarcomas, lymphomas, leukemias, and adenomas. Carcinomas are distinguished by cells that affect both internal and external parts of the body. Sarcomas are distinguished by cells that spread and grow in bones, fat, connective tissues, muscles, and other supportive tissues. Lymphomas occur when cancer cells start to develop in the lymph nodes and immune system tissues. Leukemias occur when cancer cells appear in the bone marrow and continue on to the bloodstream. According to American Cancer Society, men are mostly affected by lung cancer (28%), prostate (10%), and colon & rectum (9%). In women, cancer usually affects lungs (26%), breasts (14%), and colon & rectum (9%) (American Cancer Society, 2013).
Eventually, cancer is caused by the cells that grow uncontrollably and do not die. Sometimes, cells growth might appear due to certain DNA and genes mutations. After these mutations occur, healthy cells are unable to oppose cancer cells and are unable to die. Cancer also can develop when the body is exposed to carcinogens. Carcinogens are certain elements or substances that damage DNA and aid cancer. Tobacco, gamma radiation and x-rays, the sun, and compounds in car exhaust fumes are all carcinogens (Cancer.gov, 2013). Certain kinds of cancer can occur in families because of genetic predisposition to the disease. Sometimes people are born with genetic mutations that make them predisposed to cancer. In addition, certain diseases, such as human papillomavirus, hepatitis B and C, Epstein-Barr virus, and HIV, are believed to increase the risk of cancer (Cancer, 2009).
Symptoms of cancer vary depending on the location of the infected cells, their growth and size. Certain tumors, like breast or testicle cancer, can be felt or even seen through the skin. Sometimes, skin cancer might be noticed by the change of a wart or mole. Certain oral cancers might manifest themselves via white spots and patches inside the mouth or on the tongue. Symptoms of other types of cancer are harder to notice. Usually tumors are hard to notice up until the time when they grow up and start to cause pain by pressing on the nearby nerves, organs and blood vessels. Sometimes, cancer is accompanied by unexplained weight loss, fatigue, fever, excessive sweating, and anemia. After the tumor has metastasized, such symptoms as swollen or enlarged lymph, headaches, seizures, and coughing might occur depending on the location of the cancer (Cancer, 2009).
If the cancer is diagnosed on early stages, the chances of successful treatment and survival are higher. Using the initial disease symptoms, medical tests and such techniques as CT scans, MRI scans, PET scans, ultrasound scans and X-rays, physicians diagnose cancer, locate the tumor and determine which organs are or might be affected by it (Cancer, 2009). Sometimes doctors use endoscopy to establish whether there are any abnormal occurrences inside the body. After the patient is diagnosed with cancer, physicians extract cancer cells and tissues to analyze them on a molecular level. Then, they are able to determine the stage of the disease and its expansion. When physicians know the stage, they are able to choose the most effective treatment and make prognoses. Usually, physicians use the TNM system to stage cancer. In this system, T (1-4) indicates the size and extension of the initial tumor, N (0-3) indicates the cancer expansion, and M (0-1) indicates if the tumor has metastasized. Then cancer is categorized in 4 simpler stages where 1 indicates that the disease has not widely spread yet and might be treated successfully and 4 indicates that condition is serious and curing is not always possible (Cancer, 2009).
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Choice of the cancer treatment depends on the type and stage of cancer, patient’s age, health condition and other characteristics. The most common types of cancer treatment are surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunotherapy, and hormone or gene therapy. Usually patients undergo a combination of different treatments and therapies. Surgery is the oldest cancer treatment that is used if the tumor has not yet metastasized. When surgeons remove tumor, they usually take some healthy tissues to make sure that no cancer cells were left. Chemotherapy is a treatment that utilizes chemicals that prevent cancer cells from spreading and growth. It is usually used when the tumor has metastasized. Chemotherapy has many side effects including hair loss, nausea, fatigue, and vomiting. Radiotherapy defeats cancer cells by focusing high-energy gamma rays on the infected cells. Immunotherapy makes the immune system stronger so it can battle cancer. Hormone therapy alters the hormone production in the body and stops cancer cells from growing. Gene therapy replaces damaged genes with healthy ones so that the root cause of cancer is eliminated (Cancer, 2009).
Even though cancer is a very serious disease, it still can be prevented. Individuals that lead a healthy life, do not overexpose their bodies to the sun, have a healthy diet, etc. are in less risk of having cancer. What is more, there are certain vaccinations that help to prevent cancer. Sometimes systematic screening helps to detect and diagnose small changes.
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