The uncontrolled or abnormal growth of cells in any part of the body is called cancer. These cells may invade and destroy the surrounding healthy cells and tissue, including organs. Cancer and ‘tumours’ are often used interchangeably but it should be noted that while all cancers are tumours, all tumours are not cancerous.
Tumours are the lumps of abnormal cells that may invade nearby healthy cells and travel to distant places in the body through the bloodstream or lymphatic system. Tumours that spread are called malignant tumours while those that do not spread and are limited to a specific region are benign tumours.
Signs and symptoms
Any change in the normal functioning of the body or unusual and unexplained symptoms can be a sign of cancer. However, in many cases, one or more common symptoms can help predict cancer. Some of the common identifiers are:
- Lumps or masses that can be seen or felt under the skin
- Unintentional weight loss
- Getting fatigued easily
- Changes in skin colour or appearance
- Changes in bowel or bladder habits
- Bleeding often — vaginal, stool, urine
- Changes in colour, size, or appearance of moles
- Pain at a specific site
Cancer is caused by changes or mutations to the DNA within cells, and specifically those genes that control how cells grow and divide. Usually the body eliminates such cells, but its ability to do get compromised depending on a variety of factors. These genetic changes in cells can occur due to a variety of reasons:
- Genetic mutations
- Inherited from parents
- Exposure to sunlight and harmful UV rays
- Diet and physical activity
- Environmental factors (chemicals, tobacco smoke)
A screening of the signs and symptoms can help detect cancer at an early stage. See a doctor if you are unsure of the symptoms but feel unwell for days. Early detection can make it easy to treat cancer and recover faster.
People with suspected cancer are investigated with imaging and blood tests to evaluate the location, types, and severity of cancer. Endoscopy, specific proteins, or antibody for cancer in the blood, X-rays, MRIs, biopsy, PAP-Smear (for women only), etc. can help in making a confident diagnosis.
There are over 200 types of cancers and each of them is diagnosed and treated differently. Below is a more generalized procedure for treating cancers:
- Surgical removal of entire lump or mass of the cancerous cells
- Radiation therapy to either kill or delay the growth of cells and shrink the tumor
- Chemotherapy kills fast uncontrolled growth of cells by using powerful chemicals. It can be used along with radiation therapy to improve treatment outcomes
- Stem cells transplants help in the generation of healthy cells in place of the cells destroyed by radiation or chemicals
Along with the above, palliative care can be adopted to improve the quality of life of people with cancer by providing physical, psychological, and spiritual treatments.