Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body. Cancerous cells are also called malignant cells. The term “Cancer” encompasses more than 100 diseases affecting nearly every part of the body and all potentially life threating.
The major types of cancer are carcinoma, sarcoma, melanoma, lymphoma, and leukemia. Carcinomas — the most commonly diagnosed cancers — originate in the skin, lungs, breasts, pancreas, and other organs and glands. Lymphomas are cancers of lymphocytes. Leukemia is cancer of the blood. It does not usually form solid tumors. Sarcomas arise in bone, muscle, fat, blood vessels, cartilage, or other soft or connective tissues of the body. They are relatively uncommon. Melanomas are cancers that arise in the cells that make the pigment in skin.
Cancer has been recognized for thousands of years as a human ailment, yet only in the past century has medical science understood what cancer really is and how it progresses. Cancer specialists, called oncologists, have made remarkable advances in cancer diagnosis, prevention, and treatment. Today, more people diagnosed with cancer are living longer. However, some forms of the disease remain frustratingly difficult to treat. Modern treatment can significantly improve quality of life and may extend survival.
Carcinoma; Malignant tumor
Cells are the building blocks of living things. Cancer grows out of normal cells in the body. Normal cells multiply when the body needs them, and die when the body doesn’t. Cancer appears to occur when the growth of cells in the body is out of control and cells divide too rapidly. It can also occur when cells “forget” how to die. There are many different kinds of cancers. Cancer can develop in almost any organ or tissue, such as the lung, colon, breast, skin, bones, or nerve tissue.
There are multiple causes of cancers, including:
- Certain viruses
- Certain poisonous mushrooms and aflatoxins (a poison produced by organisms that can grow on peanut plants)
However, the cause of many cancers remains unknown.
The most common cause of cancer-related death is lung cancer.
The three most common cancers in men in the United States are prostate cancer, lung cancer, and colon cancer. In women in the U.S., the three most frequently occurring cancers are breast cancer, lung cancer, and colon cancer.
Certain cancers are more common in particular geographic areas. For example, in Japan, there are many cases of gastric cancer, while in the U.S. this type of cancer is relatively rare. Differences in diet may play a role.
Some other types of cancers include:
- Brain cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Uterine cancer
- Liver cancer
- Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Kidney cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Skin cancer
- Testicular cancer
- Thyroid cancer
Symptoms of cancer depend on the type and location of the tumor. For example, lung cancer can cause coughing, shortness of breath, or chest pain, while colon cancer often causes diarrhea, constipation, and blood in the stool.
Some cancers may not have any symptoms at all. In some cancers, such as gallbladder cancer, symptoms often are not present until the disease has reached an advanced stage.
However, the following symptoms are common with most cancers:
- Night sweats
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
Exams and Tests
Like symptoms, the signs of cancer vary based on the type and location of the tumor. Common tests include the following:
- CT scan
- Complete blood count (CBC)
- Blood chemistries
- Biopsy of the tumor
- Bone marrow biopsy (for lymphoma or leukemia)
- Chest x-ray
Most cancers are diagnosed by biopsy. Depending on the location of the tumor, the biopsy may be a simple procedure or a serious operation. Most patients with cancer undergo CT scans to determine the exact location of the tumor or tumors.
A cancer diagnosis is difficult to cope with. It is important, however, that you discuss the type, size, and location of the cancer with your doctor upon diagnosis. You also will want to ask about treatment options, along with their benefits and risks.
It’s a good idea to have someone with you at the doctor’s office to help you get through the diagnosis. If you have trouble asking questions after hearing about your diagnosis, the person you bring with you can ask them for you.
Most people with cancer will have some type of surgery. The main goal is to remove tumors, tissue, or areas with cancer cells, such as lymph nodes. Doctors also may do it to diagnose the disease or find out how serious it is.
In many cases, surgery offers the best chance of getting rid of the disease, especially if it hasn’t spread to other parts of the body.
Along with a traditional operation, doctors can also fight some types of cancer with:
- Laser surgery (beams of light)
- Electrosurgery (electric currents)
- Cryosurgery (very cold temperatures to freeze cancer cells)
You’ll get medication to block pain during and after your surgery you might also get other meds such as antibiotics to lower the risk of infection.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. There are two ways to get it, “Traditional” Chemotherapy. You get most chemo medications through an injection into a vein. But you can get some types as a shot in your muscle, under your skin, or as an ointment or cream to put on your skin. The side effects vary from person to person, even if you have the same type of cancer and get the same treatment as someone else. Some of the most common issues are:
- Hair loss
- Mouth sores
It will help you to talk with family, friends, or a support group about your feelings. Work with your health care providers throughout your treatment. Helping yourself can make you feel more in control.
The diagnosis of cancer often causes a lot of anxiety and can affect your entire quality of life. Several support groups for cancer patients to you cope.
The outlook varies widely among different types of cancer. Even among people with one particular type of cancer, the outcome varies depending on the stage of the tumor at diagnosis. Some cancers can be cured, some that are not curable can still be treated well, and some patients can live for many years with the cancer.