Cancer is a class of diseases characterized by out-of-control cell growth. There are over 100 different types of cancer, and each is classified by the type of cell that is initially affected.
Cancer harms the body when altered cells divide uncontrollably to form lumps or masses of tissue called tumors (except in the case of leukemia where cancer prohibits normal blood function by abnormal cell division in the blood stream). Tumors can grow and interfere with the digestive, nervous, and circulatory systems, and they can release hormones that alter body function. Tumors that stay in one spot and demonstrate limited growth are generally considered to be benign.
More dangerous, or malignant, tumors form when two things occur:
- a cancerous cell manages to move throughout the body using the blood or lymphatic systems, destroying healthy tissue in a process called invasion
- that cell manages to divide and grow, making new blood vessels to feed itself in a process called angiogenesis.
When a tumor successfully spreads to other parts of the body and grows, invading and destroying other healthy tissues, it is said to have metastasized. This process itself is called metastasis, and the result is a serious condition that is very difficult to treat.
According to the Cancer Society, Cancer is the second most common cause of death and accounts for nearly 1 of every 4 deaths. The World Health Organisation estimates that, worldwide, there were 14 million new cancer cases and 8.2 million cancer-related deaths in 2012 (their most recent data).
Individual Types of Cancer
There are said to be over 200 different types of cancer. We have the following common cancer types covered in individual Knowledge Center articles:
- Anal cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Bone cancer
- Breast cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Colon cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- Endometrial cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Liver cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Stomach cancer
- Testicular cancer
- Thyroid cancer
- Vaginal cancer
- Vulvar cancer
The rest of this article will focus on what cancer is, what causes cancer, the symptoms, diagnosis and available treatments.
Fast Facts on Cancer
Here are some key points about cancer. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- Cancer is considered to be one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide.
- It is believed that cancer risk can be reduced by avoiding tobacco, limiting alcohol intake, limiting UV ray exposure from the sun and tanning beds and maintaining a healthy diet, level of fitness and seeking regular medical care.
- Screening can locate cervical cancer, colorectal cancer and breast cancer at an early, treatable stage.
- Vaccines such as the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine assist in preventing some cervical, vaginal, vulvar, and oral cancers. A vaccine for hepatitis B can reduce liver cancer risk.
- According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the numbers of new cancer cases is expected to rise by about 70% over the next 20 years.
- The most common sites of cancer among men are lung, prostate, colon, rectum, stomach and liver.
- The most common sites of cancer among women are breast, colon, rectum, lung, cervix and stomach.
Symptoms of Cancer
Cancer symptoms are quite varied and depend on where the cancer is located, where it has spread, and how big the tumor is. Some cancers can be felt or seen through the skin – a lump on the breast or testicle can be an indicator of cancer in those locations. Skin cancer (melanoma) is often noted by a change in a wart or mole on the skin. Some oral cancers present white patches inside the mouth or white spots on the tongue.
Other cancers have symptoms that are less physically apparent. Some brain tumors tend to present symptoms early in the disease as they affect important cognitive functions. Pancreas cancers are usually too small to cause symptoms until they cause pain by pushing against nearby nerves or interfere with liver function to cause a yellowing of the skin and eyes called jaundice. Symptoms also can be created as a tumor grows and pushes against organs and blood vessels. For example, colon cancers lead to symptoms such as constipation, diarrhea, and changes in stool size. Bladder or prostate cancers cause changes in bladder function such as more frequent urination or infrequent urination.
Swollen or enlarged lymph nodes can be a symptom, although lymph nodes can also become swollen when fighting infection (cold or flu).
As cancer cells use the body’s energy and interfere with normal hormone function, it is possible to present symptoms such as fever, fatigue, excessive sweating, anemia, and unexplained weight loss. However, these symptoms are common in several other maladies as well. For example, coughing and hoarseness can point to lung or throat cancer as well as several other conditions.
When cancer spreads, or metastasizes, additional symptoms can present themselves in the newly affected area. Swollen or enlarged lymph nodes are common and likely to be present when the cancer starts to spread.
If cancer spreads to the brain, patients may experience vertigo, headaches, or seizures. Spreading to the lungs may cause coughing and shortness of breath. In addition, the liver may become enlarged and cause jaundice and bones can become painful, brittle, and break easily. Symptoms of metastasis ultimately depend on the location to which the cancer has spread.
To read what everyone ought to know about cancer part-2 Click Here
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