What is Cancer

Cancer is a broadly used term to describe a collection of more than a hundred related diseases that lead to uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the affected organs. 

The human body is made up of a trillion cells, the ‘building blocks of life’ that constitute the basic structural units of any organism. These cells grow and divide to form new ones. When they grow old or become damaged, they die and new cells form in their place.

If this pattern gets disrupted due to genetic changes, cancer develops. The old and damaged cells don’t die while new ones multiply hence creating an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells, and can develop in any part of the body. 

The continuous division of these cells could form masses of tissue, becoming a tumor. These can be benign or cancerous. If benign, the tumor can grow but does not spread. They can mostly be removed and may not grow back. If cancerous, the tumor can spread to other parts of the body, which is called metastasis and this feature of cancer makes it dangerous for life as when the cancer spreads to vital organs like brain, lungs, liver etc. it damages vital functions necessary to sustain life. 

The main risk factors of cancer are

  •       Ageing
  •       Family history for some cancer types
  •       Smoking
  •       Heavy alcoholism
  •       Obesity
  •       Poor nutrition
  •       Lack of physical activity
  •       Exposure to strong UV radiations
  •       Exposure to chemicals

There are no specific symptoms of cancer, but several signs that can be addressed. If symptoms persist, it is an indication to visit the doctor. Some of the common symptoms include:

  •       Sudden and unexpected weight loss
  •       Any persistent change in urine or stool routine
  •       Blood in the stools
  •       Persistent heartburn or indigestion
  •       Lump or thickening on the breast
  •       Unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge
  •       Pain or blood during urination
  •     Persistent Difficulty in swallowing or vomiting.
  •       Nagging cough

Treating cancer depends on the type and stage of the diagnosis, as well as the general health condition of the patient.

There are three main treatment options for cancer – surgery, where the tumor is removed; chemotherapy, where drugs are used to kill the cancerous cells; and radiation therapy, which uses x-rays to kill cancer cells. Now more advanced treatment options like targeted therapy, immunotherapy and Proton radiation therapy are available for cancer treatment. 

As well as these, supportive care is an integral part of managing side effects of cancer treatment such as depression, pain, loss of appetite and fatigue through services like rehabilitation, counseling, stress management and more. Family support plays a major role in treatment outcomes for cancer as patients generally need constant support, encouragement and care during the treatment and it has been found that patients with strong family support do well.

Read More About Different Cancer Types

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