How does cancer start?
Cancer is a general term given to a group of related diseases. A majority of these cancers commence after a continuous body cell division that spreads into the adjacent body tissues. In a normal scenario, the body cells grow and divide to produce new cells as they are required by the body. These cells die once they age or get damaged as they are replaced by new ones. Cancer interferes with this process where old cells do not die and new cells forms in a manner that cannot be controlled resulting in growths called tumors. Except for leukemia, a majority of cancers form solid tumors.
Malignant and benign cancers
The cancerous tumors can be malignant or benign. The malignant ones can spread and invade other tissues and as they grow, some of the cancers cells can break off to form new tumors in different places far from the original tumor via the blood or lymph system. Once removed from the body, malignant tumors can grow back. Benign tumors, on the other hand, rarely spread but they have enormous sizes and once removed they never grow back. However, benign tumors in the brain can be life-threatening.
How is cancer diagnosed?
Once one is suspected of having cancer, imaging studies like ultrasonography, x-ray, and computed tomography are done. The tests can indicate the presence, location, and size of the abnormal masses but they do not confirm the cause of cancer.
How is cancer diagnosis confirmed?
To confirm the cause, one obtains a piece of the tumor using a needle biopsy or surgery and through examining sample cells from suspected areas via microscopic examination to look for the cancer cells. The sample used mostly is a piece of tissue but for leukemia blood examination is adequate. A biopsy is a term used to refer to obtaining a tissue sample. Biopsies are carried out by cutting out a small piece of tissue using scalpel though generally the sample is taken using a hollow needle. The biopsy test does not require an overnight stay in a hospital and ultrasonography is utilized to guide the needle to the desired location. Biopsies are painful and local anesthesia is used to numb the area being tested.
When the imaging test results and examination indicates one has cancer, tumor markers in the blood are measured to offer evidence against or for cancer diagnosis. The tumor markers are essential in monitoring the effectiveness of treatments and detecting cancer recurrence.
How is cancer staged?
Once the diagnosis is confirmed, staging tests are used to establish the extent of cancer in relation to size, location, progress into the adjacent structures and spread to different parts of the body. At this juncture majority of patients are impatient and anxious, desiring to begin the treatment promptly. The staging lets the doctors come up with the most suitable treatment and helps in determining the prognosis. Staging utilizes scans and imaging tests and it depends on the cancer type. CT is utilized in detecting cancer in major parts of the body like lungs, brain, abdomen, liver, spleen, adrenal glands and lymph nodes. MRI,on the other hand, detects spinal cord, bones and brain cancers.
Clinical and pathologic staging
For staging purposes, there is a need to use biopsies to confirm the tumor presence which can be combined with initial surgical treatment of cancer. To cite an example, when doing a laparotomy to remove colon cancer, nearby lymph nodes are removed to check for the spread of cancer. The information obtained combined with primary tumor features assist in determining the need for further treatment. Staging can be clinical or pathologic. Clinical staging is when only the initial biopsy results, imaging, and physical examination are used while pathologic denotes the use of results of a surgical procedure and additional biopsies. A blood test is also added to establish if cancer has affected the kidneys, liver or bones.
Complictaions seen when one has cancer
On the onset of the disease, a myriad of complications arise and depending on the stage of tumor and patient’s health, the complications become life-changing, painful, inconvenient, and even deadly. Following this reason, most of the remedies and therapies are tailored to reduce the complications associated with cancer and lower the emotional and physical distress at the same time.
The common complications that arise when one has cancer are; pain, metastasis, sleep disorders, fatigue, and depression. Survival chances of a patient increase when these complications are treated and the quality of life also improves. Cancer patients carry a high risk of increased mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.
In response to treatment and diagnosis of cancer, a majority of the patients naturally experience grief, sadness, and anxiety. These mixed feelings may interfere with a patient’s ability to undergo treatment and carry on with a productive life and at times may call for a professional treatment to deal with the mood disorder.
Another physical complication is the pain caused by pressure exerted to nearby nerves by tumor growth and spread to adjacent tissue. Fatigue is also a major complication and it results from the liberation of intracellular metabolites and products from tumor necrosis and cell lysis after one undergoes therapy. It also comes from cachexia, dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, infection, anemia, and chronic hypoxia.
How is cancer treated?
The treatment for cancer involves chemotherapy and radiation and though they may cure the patients, they have adverse effects on the life quality of a patient. The radiation therapy is utilized in managing the skin tumors and the internal ones. It’s side-effects are unpleasant and short-term and they include irritated skin, throat pain, and hoarseness. In severe cases, long-term effects result from the radiation directed to the oral cavity. The jawbones and the salivary glands are destroyed inducing a permanent tendency to develop cavities and jaw pain as well as a chronic dry mouth. Chemotherapy, on the other hand, leads to nausea, weak immune system, and hair loss. These side effects are short-term and they disappear once a person completes their treatment.
How to deal with physical and psychological effects of cancer
The burden of cancer comes with both physical and psychological effects and devising a way to deal with the effects is essential. The physical effects include fatigue, pain, nausea and vomiting, hair loss and lymphedema. Fatigue can be dealt with by following an exercise program but one has to consult the doctors for the intensity and level of the exercises. Pain, on the other hand, can be managed by taking prescribed pain medication and combining with physical therapies like massage, ice packs and hot water bottles. Nausea and vomiting can also be controlled using prescribed medication. When it comes to hair loss one can use hairpiece or wigs while lymphedema can be dealt with by the lymphedema therapists.
For the psychological effects like stress, anxiety, and depression, one should train in meditation, relaxation and stress management. In addition, one should engage in talk therapy or counseling, cancer education sessions and social support in a group setting. Lastly one can use exercise and medication meant for anxiety and depression.