There are countless cells in our body. However, sometimes, cells start growing with an uncontrolled growth rate. This uncontrolled growth of cells is medically termed cancer or tumor. It damages surrounding tissues and can spread to other parts of the body through the blood or lymph glands. There are more than 100 types of cancers. The most common of them are breast cancer, lung cancer, and prostate cancer, among others.
When cancer cells start to grow abnormally, they negatively impact the surrounding organs and nerves. That is when the cancer symptoms start manifesting. If cancer originates in a delicate organ like the brain, even a small tumor produces a lot of pain and many other symptoms. Some specific types of cancer do not show any symptoms until the cell growth increases in size, such as cancer of the pancreas.
What are the causes of cancer?
The mutation of cell DNA causes cancer. The DNA inside a cell comprises many genes. Each gene instructs the cell function and growth. A mutation in the DNA stops the cell from performing its native functions. This change in cell functions ultimately causes cancer.
What factors cause gene mutation?
Gene mutation arises from the following factors:
- Gene mutations at birth. An individualmay be born with a gene mutation that is passed on from the parents to the siblings or from one generation to the next.
- Gene mutations after birth.Most gene mutations occur only after birth. One of the major factors could be your lifestyle. Smoking, use of hazardous chemicals, obesity, age, viruses, etc., are common elements that can cause gene mutations.
What are the common cancer symptoms?
Cancer symptoms vary with the organ or body part that is primarily affected. Some common cancer symptoms are mentioned below.
- Dysphagia. Dysphagia means difficulty in swallowing. This symptom is noticeable in esophageal and throat cancer.
- Fatigue. Most individuals who have cancer suffer from fatigue. The constant feeling of tiredness caused by cancer is different from general fatigue. Fatigue can be particularly constant and severe in bone marrow cancer.
- Changes in weight. Cancer can cause rapid weight loss . Some specific types of cancer can cause abdominal swelling, which leads to sudden and unintentional weight-gain.
- Dyspepsia after every meal. Cancer causes the degeneration of healthy cells, which causes fatigue and restlessness.
- Bleeding. As abnormal cells damage the blood vessels, bleeding problems cmay manifest as cancer symptoms.
- Continuous fever or sweats. Fever is considered as an early symptom of blood cancer. It may constitute a symptom in all types of cancer as there is a decline in resistance to infections due to the weak immune system .
- Changes in skin color. You may notice changes in skin color .This change may be due to the cancer growth or treatment of the disease.
- Inability of wounds to heal. If wounds are not healing, it can be a symptom of skin cancer.
- Dyspnea. Dyspnea refers to shortness of breath. Dyspnea may be a cancer symptom.
- Hoarsenes of Voice s. Cancer of the larynx or lung may cause hoarseness. This may also affect your speech.
- Arthralgia. Cancer and its treatment may cause constant pain in the joints and muscles.
When to see a doctor
If you experience any of the above cancer symptoms that are persistent and suspect you may be suffering from the disease, see a doctor immediately. Early detection and prompt treatment of cancer increase the chances of eliminating it and survival.
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What are the risk factors of cancer?
Some of the risk factors of cancer are:
● Your family history. The chances of getting cancer depend to a considerable extent on family history. Gene mutations can transfer from one generation to another. But, do bear in mind that an inherited gene mutation is not the only and primary risk factor for cancer.
● Your age. Age is also a risk factor for cancer. The disease is more common in adults, though it can occur at any age. Individuals over 65 years of age constitute a major risk group for cancer.
● Your environment. Continued exposure to carcinogens increases the risk of cancer. A carcinogen is any substance or other element that promotes the development of cancer. Benzene, asbestos, beryllium, and vinyl chloride are some carcinogenic chemicals. Prolonged exposure to such chemicals can cause cancer. Smoking can also cause cancer; even those who live around smokers could be at risk.
● Your habits. An individual’s lifestyle can increase the risks of cancer. Excessive smoking, alcohol consumption, and using harmful drugs can cause cancer. Having unsafe sex also increases the risk of cancer. Among other lifestyle factors, continuous exposure to heat and strokes (sunburns) also aggravates the risk.
● Chronic health conditions. A few other diseases also increase the risk of cancer. Ulcerative colitis is one of them.
What are the complications of cancer?
Complications from cancer occur when the disease is left untreated and sometimes even after treatment. Some common complications of cancer are:
- Fatigue. If you are a cancer patient, you may have to struggle with fatigue. Fatigue is common in patients undergoing radiation therapy or chemotherapy. But it is treatable and typically does not last long.
- Pain. Cancer may be painful. Proper treatment and effective medicines can relieve a patient’s pain.
- Weight loss. Weight loss occurs when the cancer is left untreated and even during the cancer treatment. To overcome this complication, the doctor may ensure nutrition is provided through a tube. But, sometimes, this remedy may not halt weight loss.
- Spread to other organs/parts. If cancer is left untreated or the treatment does not work, it can reach other body parts. How cancer spreads depend on the type.
- Constipation. Untreated cancer or treatment of the disease may affect the intestines, causing constipation and diarrhoea. These can be treated with medicines but may recur.
- Changes in body chemistry. Cancer can cause chemical changes in the body, thereby affecting the chemical balance and causing many complications. Disturbances in chemical balance may lead to constipation, frequent thirst, and frequent urination.
- Nausea. This is a common side-effect of cancer treatment. It is possible to address nausea with medication or other treatment.
- Effects on the nervous system. The area primarily affected by cancer produces pressure on the surrounding tissues, inflammation may also occur. Brain cancer or any other cancer that spreads to the brain may affect the nerve cells, causing headaches and other major problems.
- Paraneoplastic syndrome. Sometimes, due to cancer, our immune system becomes the body’s enemy. When cancer-fighting antibodies, for some reason, start damaging healthy cells of the nervous system, it is called paraneoplastic syndrome. This syndrome is more common in patients with breast cancer, lymphatic cancer, lung cancer, etc.
Headaches, dizziness, memory loss, reduced vision and other vision-related problems may occur with paraneoplastic syndrome.
What are the diagnostic methods for cancer?
Many tests are performed to detect and diagnose cancer. The common ones are:
- Imaging tests. The doctor uses imaging techniques such as MRI, CT scan, X-ray, etc. to detect cancer.
- Biopsy. The cells of the affected area are collected and sent for lab tests.
- Other laboratory tests. Blood and urine are tested to detect cancer.
What is the treatment for cancer?
Doctors determine treatment methods for cancer based on its location, stage, and type. Some well-known methods to treat cancer are:
Chemotherapy. This therapy uses drugs to stop the uncontrolled growth of cancer cells. In modern chemotherapy, the drug is injected intravenously or given orally.
Surgery. Doctors remove the tumour or tissues containing cancer with surgery. If cancer has not spread through the body, surgery can be the best treatment option.
Radiation treatment. In this type of treatment, radiation is used to destroy the cancer-affected cells and tissues. It is painless, but some swelling along with pain may occur in the affected area after treatment.
Bone marrow transplant. It is also called stem-cell transplant. During treatment, the defective bone marrow is replaced with healthier bone marrow.
Immunotherapy. This therapy helps our immune system to fight cancerous cells. It is also known as biological therapy.
Photodynamic therapy. In this therapy, doctors first inject a specific drug into the blood and then destroy the cancerous cells through light activation.
What are the prevention methods for cancer?
It is currently impossible to eliminate all chances of getting cancer. But precautions can and must be taken to reduce the risk of cancer, such as:
- Limit consumption or do not consume alcohol. Alcohol increases the risk of cancer. If you are addicted to it, then you need to break the habit slowly. If a person over 65 years drinks a lot of alcohol, there is a definite cancer risk.
- Do not overexpose yourself to the sun. Sunlight is necessary for the body, but exposing yourself to harsh rays for long-duration puts you at risk for cancer; harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun cause skin cancer.
- Exercise daily. Exercise reduces the risk of cancer. You should exercise for 20 to 30 minutes every day. Cardio exercise is more beneficial. If you cannot exercise daily, try to do it at least four days a week.
- Pay attention to your weight. Obesity increases the risk of cancer. Follow a good diet and keep your body fit.
If you detect any signs related to cancer, get yourself checked by a doctor immediately.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- Can I get cancer again?
Yes. If you have had cancer before, then the disease may relapse. After the completion of cancer treatment, seek your doctor’s guidance on ways to stay in remission and prevent a recurrence.