Cancer


Cancer is defined as the uncontrolled growth of abnormal malignant cells.

Cancer occurs in a number of different forms. Each form carrying with it different treatments and symptoms. Below are a few major forms of cancer.

Breast Cancer: Breast cancer is a disease in which malignant cells are found in the tissues of the breast. Excluding non-melanoma skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women and the sixth leading cause of death among this cohort. Today, given the great strides in breast cancer medical research and diagnosis and detection practices, death rates from breast cancer have been declining since 1990. According to the American Cancer Society, there are 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S.

Lung Cancer: The second most common cancer in both men and women, lung cancer affects approximately 219,000 new cases every year in this country. This deadly disease has the highest cancer death rate of any cancer. The most significant risk factor of lung cancer is smoking but other factors such as environmental exposures to toxins and genetics also play a role in the development of this disease.

Prostate CancerProstate cancer is the most common cancer among American men with the exception of skin cancer and is the second leading cause of cancer death. This walnut-size male reproductive gland located underneath the bladder is responsible for making and producing seminal fluid. Cancer occurs when the cells of the prostrate gland mutate into cancer cells. The severity of the cancer is determined by stages of development which refer to where the cancer cells have spread. Age, genetics, diet, medication and environmental exposure are the most common risk factors.

Ovarian: One of the most deadly of all cancers, ovarian cancer is also referred to as the Silent Killer because usually by the time the cancer is detected, it has spread to other areas of the body. There are approximately 21,000 new cases of ovarian cancer each year and an estimated 14,000 women die from this disease each year. The ovaries are two small organs that make up the female reproductive system which produce eggs for ovulation and fertilization. They also play a significant role in the production and regulation of the hormones, estrogen and progesterone. Age, obesity, never having children, and taking certain medications have been linked to the onset of ovarian cancer.

Cervical Cancer: One of the most curable forms of cancer when caught early, cervical cancer is also one of the most prevalent, affecting approximately 12,000 women each year. Cervical cancer, or cancer of the cervix is often detected through a routine Pap smear which looks for pre-cancerous cell growth within the cervix. Nearly all cervical cancer is caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which is transmitted via sexual intercourse. Today, the vaccine, Gardisil prevents the two most common strains of HPV that cause cervical cancer.

Skin Cancer: Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer among men and women. Marked by an abnormal growth of cancer cells on the skin, approximately one million Americans are diagnosed with some form of skin cancer each year and approximately 11,000 deaths are attributed to this disease each year. The three most common types of skin cancer are basal cell, squamous cell carcinomas and melanoma. The first two are very curable and but melanomas are a very deadly form of skin cancer. Many skin cancers are caused by direct exposure to UV rays either via the sunlight or a tanning bed. If caught early, most non-melanoma skin cancers can be treated.

Cancer Symptoms

The symptoms of cancer are as myriad as the many faces of the disease. Cancer by definition is an abnormal growth of cells that results in a tumor or a mass of tissue. Normally, cells grow and divide to form new cells. As these new cells age and become older, they perish to make way for new cells. This process is constantly occurring in our bodies, from the day of conception until the death. Cancer occurs in one of two ways when this normal process is interrupted: New cells that the body does not require, grow or older cells which should perish, never die.

The symptoms of cancer may take the form as a mass in the lung or breast, an enlarged mole on the skin, a cough that never goes away or changes in the bowel or bladder function or appetite. In addition, constant fatigue, unintentional weight gain or loss, extreme discomfort after eating are all additional symptoms of cancer. And for some cancers like ovarian cancer, there are no overt signs or symptoms until the cancer is diagnosed in an advanced stage.

But since each specific kind of cancer is marked by its own set of symptoms, it is important to have any suspicious signs thoroughly examined by your medical doctor.

Common Types of Cancer Breast Cancer: Breast cancer is a disease in which malignant cells are found in the tissues of the breast. Excluding non-melanoma skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women and the sixth leading cause of death among this cohort. Today, given the great strides in breast cancer medical research and diagnosis and detection practices, death rates from breast cancer have been declining since 1990. According to the American Cancer Society, there are 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S.

Lung Cancer: The second most common cancer in both men and women, lung cancer affects approximately 219,000 new cases every year in this country. This deadly disease has the highest cancer death rate of any cancer. The most significant risk factor of lung cancer is smoking but other factors such as environmental exposures to toxins and genetics also play a role in the development of this disease.

Prostate Cancer: Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among American men with the exception of skin cancer and is the second leading cause of cancer death. This walnut-size male reproductive gland located underneath the bladder is responsible for making and producing seminal fluid. Cancer occurs when the cells of the prostrate gland mutate into cancer cells. The severity of the cancer is determined by stages of development which refer to where the cancer cells have spread. Age, genetics, diet, medication and environmental exposure are the most common risk factors.

Ovarian: One of the most deadly of all cancers, ovarian cancer is also referred to as the Silent Killer because usually by the time the cancer is detected, it has spread to other areas of the body. There are approximately 21,000 new cases of ovarian cancer each year and an estimated 14,000 women die from this disease each year. The ovaries are two small organs that make up the female reproductive system which produce eggs for ovulation and fertilization. They also play a significant role in the production and regulation of the hormones, estrogen and progesterone. Age, obesity, never having children, and taking certain medications have been linked to the onset of ovarian cancer.

Cervical Cancer: One of the most curable forms of cancer when caught early, cervical cancer is also one of the most prevalent, affecting approximately 12,000 women each year. Cervical cancer, or cancer of the cervix is often detected through a routine Pap smear which looks for pre-cancerous cell growth within the cervix. Nearly all cervical cancer is caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which is transmitted via sexual intercourse. Today, the vaccine, Gardisil prevents the two most common strains of HPV that cause cervical cancer.

Skin Cancer: Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer among men and women. Marked by an abnormal growth of cancer cells on the skin, approximately one million Americans are diagnosed with some form of skin cancer each year and approximately 11,000 deaths are attributed to this disease each year. The three most common types of skin cancer are basal cell, squamous cell carcinomas and melanoma. The first two are very curable and but melanomas are a very deadly form of skin cancer. Many skin cancers are caused by direct exposure to UV rays either via the sunlight or a tanning bed. If caught early, most non-melanoma skin cancers can be treated.

Cancer Causes

Researchers and medical doctors are continually searching for the causes of the 200 different kinds of cancer that the medical community has thus far identified. Fortunately, research has yielded some very powerful evidence on the specific risk factors that predispose an individual to developing cancer but its precise still remains nebulous.

Cancer can occur in any kind of tissue within the body but its specific cause is actually a combination of varying factors that create just the perfect environment for abnormal cell growth to occur. A cancer is named for where it starts for instance, stomach cancer begins in the stomach and breast cancer originates from a malignant tumor in the breast. But as the cancer grows, it can spread to other areas of the body which is why cancer of the liver can at some point metastasize, a medical term for spread, to the bones. What makes one kind of cancer develop over another is a mysterious interplay among genetics, environment, and lifestyle factors.

The risk factors for cancer can be separated into specific categories. Genetics, environmental and lifestyle factors all contribute to the process of developing cancer. Here are some of the most salient risk factors in each category.

Genetics

All of us are born with our own set of genes that dictate how tall we will be, the color of our eyes and the width of our smile. These very genes also play a role in our health. In order for a cancer to occur, there must be a mutation within the cell. But for some individuals, they are born with such mutations that increase their risk for developing cancer. For instance, certain cancers, like specific kinds of breast cancer are linked to having a specific kind of gene, specifically, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene. Molecular genetics has been able to locate such cancer-trigger genes through a complex process known as gene testing. But testing positive for certain cancer genes does not mean that the person will develop cancer. Instead, it simply means that they are predisposed to that specific kind of cancer.

Environment

Being exposed to environments that expose you to certain chemicals, radiation, asbestos and sunlight are risk factors for developing cancer. Some of these environmental risk factors are avoidable while others are not. Workers who work very closely with chemical dyes have a greater incidence of certain cancers like bladder cancer than those who don’t. In addition, the Chernobyl power-plant disaster in 1986 provided researchers with powerful evidence for the role of nuclear radiation and thyroid cancer as significant increases of this kind of cancer were seen in the years following the catastrophe.

Lifestyle

It is estimated that one-third of all the cancer cases in the United States could be prevented through lifestyle changes. Foremost on this list is smoking. Smoking is a significant risk factor for cancer of lung, mouth, larynx, esophagus, breast, bladder and countless other cancers. In addition, alcohol use has been associated with increased risk for breast, liver, mouth, throat, rectum and esophageal cancers. Being overweight, consuming an unhealthy diet and leading a sedentary lifestyle are strongly associated with the development of cancer as well.

While many of these lifestyle factors can be altered, age, another powerful risk factor for developing cancer, cannot. Therefore, you can help to protect yourself from cancer by altering those risk factors that are amenable to change such as diet, exercise practices and smoking and alcohol consumption behaviors.

Cancer Treatment

Cancer treatment plans are largely dependant upon how advanced the disease is and where it is located. Some cancers can be treated through just radiation alone while others require both radiation, chemotherapy and even surgery in some cases.

Biological therapy, hormone therapy, gene therapy, laser therapy and bone marrow transplants are additional kinds of conventional treatment options.

There are also a variety of alternative and complementary treatment options that can be used in place of or in conjunction with conventional treatment practices. While there are numerous kinds of alternative and complementary treatments, acupuncture to treat chemotherapy-induced nausea, massage therapy for cancer-induced fatigue and special diet therapies to facilitate healing are some of the most commonly practiced treatments.

Common Medications for Breast Cancer

Medicines used to treat breast cancer Aromatase inhibitors like Tamoxifen prevent estrogen from facilitating the further development of a specific kind of breast cancer. This popular medication is most effective when it is used after menopause. Trastuzumab like Herceptin or are used in conjunction with chemotherapy in order to improve the efficacy of the chemotherapy treatment.
Serotonin Antagonists like Zofran and Aloxi, aprepitents like Emend and phenothiazines are used to control the nausea and vomiting that result from chemotherapy.

Common Medications for Prostate Cancer

Testosterone Inhibitors like Lupron or Zoladex are frequently used to prevent the production of testosterone, the hormone that facilitates the growth of the prostate tumor. Androgen-blocking drugs like Flutamide inhibit testosterone from attaching itself to the prostate cells. Chemotherapy medications like Ariamycin, Docetaxel, Paclitaxel and Prednisone are used when hormone therapy treatments like testosterone inhibitors and androgen-blocking drugs do not sufficiently shrink the tumor.

Common Medications for Lung Cancer

Chemotherapy medications like Carboplatin, Cisplatin, Etoposide, Doxetaxel, Bevacizumab and Gemcitabane are used to interrupt the process of cancer cell division in order to stop the tumor from growing. Chemotherapy medications are either taken in a pill or intravenous form and carry a host of side effects such as fatigue, nausea, hair loss, digestive problems and reduced immune capacity.

Common Medications for Ovarian Cancer

Chemotherapy medicines like Carboplatin, Cisplatin, Placlitaxel are the most effective ovarian cancer medicines that are used to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. A typical course includes six rounds of Placitaxel in addition to Carboplatin or Cisplatin. These medicines, which are administered intravenously cause a variety of side effects include fatigue, nausea, hair loss, bruising, peripheral neuropathy and reduced immune capacity.

Common Medications for Cervical Cancer

Chemotherapy medicines like Cisplatin and Flourouracil are the most common cervical cancer drugs that prevent the cancer cells from dividing and thereby multiplying in number. Both of these medications are taken intravenously and may include side effects like sensitivity to light, compromised immune response, digestive problems, mouth sores, and peripheral neuropathy.

For advanced or recurrent cervical cancer, chemotherapy medicines include Mitomycin, Paclitaxel and Ifosfamide. These antitumor medications work to prevent cancer cells from dividing and duplicating. Side effects include nausea, digestive problems, reduced immune capacity, mouth sores, fatigue and sensitivity to sunlight.

Common Medications for Skin Cancer

Fluorouracil is a cream used to treat nonmelanoma skin cancers. Applied directly to the affected skin areas, the cream works to kill the skin disease. Side effects will include pain and a burning sensation on the affected area, discoloration changes, redness and oozing. Imiquimod cream or Aldara is used to treat basal cell carcinoma on all areas of the body except the face. It is often used when surgical removal of the skin cancer would cause significant scarring. It works by facilitating the growth of immune system defenses that attack the invading cancer cells.

Chemotherapy medicines are only used when nonmelanoma skin cancers like basal and squamous cell cancers have spread to other areas of the body. But in the case of metastasized melanoma, the chemotherapy drugs like interferon and dacarbazine and are used to improve the body’s defenses against fighting off the cancer cells. Anti-Nausea drugs like aprepitant (Emend) and dimenhydrinate (Dramamine) are used to lessen the nausea and vomiting that accompanies chemotherapy treatment.

Cancer Prevention

While the medical community can still not fully explain what causes cancer in one person and not another, there are a host of preventive measures an individual can take to protect him or herself from developing this disease.

One of the most important lifestyle behaviors to refrain from is smoking. This addictive habit has been strongly linked to a variety of deadly cancers like lung and esophageal cancers. In addition, eating a diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables has been associated with preventing certain cancers. Plant-based foods like vegetables and fruits contain antioxidants. Antioxidants are substances that eliminate free radicals from the body, which may contribute to the development of cancer. In addition, maintaining a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 25 or below can also help to prevent against cancer as being overweight or obese increases one’s chance of developing certain cancers. Lastly, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep are two important lifestyle behaviors that have been associated with reducing cancer risk.

Cancer Resources

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is a moment that no one wants to experience. But for those that have been diagnosed with cancer, there has never been more support, resources and treatment options available to treat the disease. In addition to medical doctors like oncologists, radiologists and surgeons, there are specialized treatment centers dedicated to researching and treating specific kinds of cancer. In addition, the Internet, cancer awareness organizations and support groups are additional resources that can assist in making an individual’s experience with cancer as supportive and informative as possible.

Additional resources to receive specific support and treatment services are:

National cancer organizations such as the National Cancer Institute.

Nationally-sponsored cancer support groups and forums like Gilda’s ClubThe Cancer Hope Network, and I Can Hope, a division of the American Cancer Society.