What is cancer?
Almost all the cells in the body multiply throughout life. Normal cells multiply under control and die when they are supposed to. Cancer cells, on the other hand, lose this control and start multiplying more than required or continue to live beyond their natural time. These cells can damage the organ in which the cell multiplication is taking place and can also spread to other sites.
In which part of my body can I get cancer?
Cancer can occur in any part of the body. Cancer is usually painless at onset and generally presents as swellings or growths. These lesions gradually increase in size and can damage the surrounding tissue.
How does cancer spread?
As cancer grows, it invades the surrounding structures and can invade lymphatic and blood vessels. It then can spread to the draining lymph nodes and other organs; through the blood stream, it also spreads to others parts of the body like the lung, liver, bones and/or brain.
What causes cancer?
The exact cause of cancer is not yet known. However, there are certain risk factors that may lead to it. Common factors include tobacco, obesity, a strong family history of certain cancers, alcohol (in the case of liver cancer), certain infections (HIV, H pylori in the stomach and HPV, among others), exposure to certain hormonal treatments, certain toxic chemicals (asbestos, benzene compounds), radiation exposure and more.
Is cancer preventable?
Yes, to a large extent. About 50% of cancers are tobacco-related, including lung cancer, cancer of mouth, cancer of the voice box and many others. Avoiding intake of tobacco can prevent these cancers.
Certain cancers like cancers of the colon, breast and cervix can be detected early and cured if treated promptly. It is therefore important to be aware of the early warning signals and consult a health professional. It is equally important to go through the appropriate screening for those cancers – colonoscopies for colon cancer, mammograms for breast cancer and so on.
What are the signs and symptoms of cancer?
The common symptoms of cancer are:
- Lump or swelling
- A sore that doesn't heal
- Recent change in a wart/mole
- Unusual bleeding or discharge
- Changes in bladder or bowel habits
- Nagging cough or hoarseness
- Difficulty in swallowing or dyspepsia
- Otherwise unexplained significant weight loss
- Unexpected uterine or rectal bleeding
How is cancer treated?
Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy (drugs) are the common ways of treating cancer. Treatment often requires more than one of these modalities. To decide on the best treatment for a given patient, initial testing is done to make the diagnosis and determine how far the disease has progressed. Based on factors like this, the patient's age and his or her clinical status, the treatment is planned. The response of disease to treatment is assessed periodically. Treatment generally needs to be given over a period of time. Once the planned treatment is completed, cancer patients need regular follow-up.
What can I do to prevent cancer?
- Avoid tobacco (most importantly) and alcohol
- Avoid obesity
- Indulge in physical activity
- Be aware of your body so that you can detect any changes early
- Be alert for the warning signs of cancer
Contact a health professional immediately if you come across any suspicious symptom and go through the appropriate screenings.