Introduction – Cancer
WHAT IS CANCER?
Cancer is an uncontrolled growth of body tissue anywhere in a person’s body. This growth interferes with the way your body normally functions.
There are many kinds of cells that make up the tissue in a human body. Cells make new cells by dividing. Some cells stop dividing when you become an adult. Other cells constantly divide, such as those of your skin, hair and blood. Some divide only if there has been damage somewhere in your body. They “turn on” only until the damage has been repaired. Cancer tissues have lost their ability to “turn off” their growth. They eventually crowd out healthy tissues, disrupting your body’s ability to do what it needs to do.
There are over 100 different kinds of cancer. Many people will get some form of cancer in their lifetime. The good news is that almost half (4 in 10) of them will be cured for at least five years.
Your chances of being cured increase greatly with getting an early, accurate diagnosis, and then quickly starting treatment.
The most common ways of treating cancer are with surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and immunotherapy. These can be used alone or in combination.
There are new therapies being developed every day by researchers looking for better options for cancer patients. Research is also being done in the area of preventing cancer.
Cancer can be a life-threatening disease. The sooner it is found, the more likely it can be cured. Different kinds of cancer are treated in different ways, so it’s very important to carefully identify the specific type.
A diagnostic evaluation for cancer seeks to find the signs or symptoms suggestive of that disease. The evaluation is used to determine the existence of and extent of the disease. To know for sure if a person has cancer, their cells, suspicious growths, or affected tissue must be examined under a microscope. This is done by a pathologist, a doctor who specializes in looking at diseased cells.
The person must first have these cells removed from their body. This is called a biopsy. It is usually done by a physician who specializes in diagnosing cancer. It can often be done in a doctor’s office and may not require surgery. Additional tests such as CT scans, MRIs, and various X-rays are sometimes needed to help determine the extent of the cancer. In cases where tests do not give your doctor enough information, exploratory surgery may be necessary.
Cancer is often found when a person feels a lump in their body or sees a suspicious growth on their skin. Sometimes it is found by routine cancer screening methods such as having a mammogram for breast cancer, a Pap smear for cervix cancer, or a rectal exam for colon and prostate cancers.
In the case of blood cancers such as leukemia, tumors are not produced, so the person must have other symptoms that send them to their doctor. Examples of other symptoms are weakness, fever, or bleeding. At this time a special blood test is done, and the person’s bone marrow must be tested.
The chances of curing cancer increase with early and accurate detection. Treatment should be started as soon as a diagnosis is reached, in order to stop the rapid growth of cancer cells.
IMPORTANCE OF EARLY DETECTION
Cancer is a major cause of illness and death in the U.S. About 500,000 people die of cancer each year in the United States. As many as 35 percent of all cancer deaths could be avoided through early detection with screening.
Screening is a means of finding early cancers in people who have no symptoms. Examples include cervical Pap smears, manual breast exams, fecal blood tests, and sigmoidoscopies. In many kinds of cancer, by the time that there are symptoms, the cancer is too far advanced to get a cure. Screening helps to sort out persons at high risk for cancer. To be most useful, the screening test must detect cancers before symptoms would cause a person to seek care. Also, there must be evidence that early treatment would lead to an improved outcome. There are some cancers where screening does not appear to be useful.
After a positive cancer screening, more diagnostic tests are done. These tests may include imaging procedures, biopsies and laboratory work. It is important to follow up any positive screening with a full diagnostic work-up.
Some individuals are known to be at high risk for cancer. High risk factors include:
* a strong family history of cancer
* known occupational exposure to cancer-causing substances
* lifestyle factors such as smoking status, dietary patterns, and history of viral infections and
* previous cancers
If you have been told that you are a high risk for a specific cancer, ask your healthcare provider what steps you need to take. The sooner a cancer is discovered, the better the outcome. The progression of cancer will determine the likely survival time or rate of cure.
See your healthcare provider for advice about your cancer risk factors, and how often you should have screening exams.
CAN YOUR DIET PREVENT CANCER?
It is difficult to measure the impact of diet in preventing cancer. There is some evidence that diet is a factor in some cancers. While the relationship between cancer and diet is not well understood, it makes common sense to eat a well-balanced and nutritious diet of healthy food sources.
Follow these diet tips to reduce your risk of cancer:
* Eat a varied diet. Eating many different foods in moderation offers the best hope for lowering cancer risk.
* Make sure to include many different fruits and vegetables in the diet. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables may decrease the risk of lung, prostate, bladder, esophageal, colorectal, and stomach cancers.
* Cut down on fat intake. A diet high in fat may be a factor in the development of breast, colon, and prostate cancer. Limit total fat intake to 30 percent or less of total calorie intake.
* Eat high-fiber foods such as whole grain foods, vegetables, fruits, and beans. Increasing fiber intake may reduce the risk of colon cancer.
* Limit alcohol intake. Heavy drinking, when also smoking cigarettes or using smokeless tobacco, increases the risk of cancer of the mouth, larynx, throat, esophagus, and liver.
* Limit the intake of salt-cured, smoked, and nitrite-cured foods. When these are eaten frequently, there is a higher incidence of cancer of the stomach and esophagus.
Ask your healthcare provider about vitamin and mineral supplements. These can be expensive, and with a balanced diet may not be necessary. By eating a healthy diet you may decrease your risk of cancer, as well as your chances of heart disease, diabetes, and other illnesses.
SEVEN WARNING SIGNS OF CANCER
When cancer is in its very early stages, there are often no symptoms. Sometimes early symptoms do not seem like anything serious. Learning what to look for can lead to early detection. The chances of curing cancer are made much greater when it is found early.
The American Cancer Society has identified seven major warning signs of cancer:
* a change in bowel or bladder habits
* a sore that does not heal
* unusual bleeding or discharge
* a lump in the breast or other parts of the body
* chronic indigestion or difficulty in swallowing
* obvious changes in a wart or mole or
* persistent coughing or hoarseness
If any of these warning signs are present, you should have a medical examination soon. Having one of these warning signs does not mean you are sure to have cancer. If cancer is present, early treatment greatly increases your chances to be cured.
There are more warning signs for other kinds of cancer. They are not as common as those listed above.