What is Cancer?
Cancer is a word used for more than 100 diseases. The subject of cancer is extremely vast. Each type of cancer is different and varies greatly to each other. This article will focus on cancer in general, and will not describe one kind of cancer in much detail. To fully comprehend the word, there needs to be some dissection of the human cell. Each cell contains deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) which is genetic material that makes up all humans.
Normal cells divide to create new cells and eventually die when they are not needed anymore. Cancer cells do not die; they continue to grow, and form abnormal cells that invade other tissues in the body. The body doesn’t need these cancer cells. The DNA in these cancer cells are damaged due to an injury or the environment, thus any cells created onward from these cells will be flawed as well. A mass is formed from the cancer cells called a tumor.
Cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body through the blood stream. More tumors can grow as a result of this migration. Tumors can crowd normal tissues in the body. Tumors are not cancerous by definition. Some tumors are benign and some are malignant. Benign tumors can grow and cause minor health issues; however they can’t invade other tissues. Malignant tumors are cancerous and invade other tissues. Doctors who specialize in cancer diagnosis and treatment are called oncologists. These physicians work with their patients on a one-on-one basis to create an appropriate plan for treatment (National Cancer Institute, 2014).
Categories of Cancer
The National Cancer Institute (2014) provides a description of the main categories of cancer in the following:
- Carcinoma- cancer that begins in the skin or in tissues that line or cover internal organs. There are a number of subtypes of carcinoma, including adenocarcinoma, basil cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and transitional cell carcinoma.
- Sarcoma- cancer that begins in bone, cartilage, fat, muscle, blood vessel, or other connective or supportive tissue.
- Leukemia- cancer that starts in blood-forming tissue such as the bone marrow and causes large numbers of abnormal blood cells to be produced and enter the blood.
- Lymphoma and myeloma- cancers that begin in the cells of the immune system.
- Central nervous system cancers- cancers that begin in the tissues of the brain and spinal cord.
Statistics on Cancer
The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2014, the United States will have over a million new cases of cancer and over five hundred thousand deaths. Millions of people survive cancer each year. The number of survivors of cancer has been steadily increasing every year.
Over 13 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with cancer, and lung cancer has been reported with the highest percentage of deaths among both men and women. There are many different types of cancer. The risk of developing cancer increases with age. Some cancers are more prevalent among certain populations, and some are exclusive to one gender such is the case with Prostate Cancer and men.
Breast Cancer afflicts more than 2 million women in the United States. If Breast Cancer is caught in the early stages, the chances for survival are over 95%. Cancer as a diagnosis doesn’t necessarily mean the person will die from the disease. Millions of people survive from cancer each year (American Cancer Society, 2014).
Causes of Cancer
Cancer can be caused by one or more factors. The American Cancer Society states that the causes of cancer are connected with genetics, tobacco, diet, physical activity, sun exposure, radiation exposure and other carcinogens.
Some cancers are hereditary due to an abnormal gene mutation being passed down from parent to child. Up to one-tenth of all cancers are inherited. Smoking cigarettes/cigars are very dangerous and can be detrimental to a person’s health. Smoking cigarettes has been proven to cause different types of cancer such as lung, oral, and esophageal cancer.
There is a link between diet and physical activity and cancer. Poor diet and lack of regular physical activity increases the chances of developing the disease. Research studies show that aerobic exercise and weight training boosts the immune system in cancer survivors and lowers the risk of cancer.
Research has recently shown these foods to be effective in fighting cancer.
Over 33% of deaths from cancer are related to poor diet (American Cancer Society, 2014). Diets high in trans fats can increase the risk of cancer. See our article “What is Good Fat?” and “20 Cancer-Fighting Foods.” Recent studies have shown that increasing acidity and lowering cancer cell pH (increasing acidity) is effective against cancer cell mitosis in the laboratory studies.
Extensive lifetime exposure to UV rays in sunlight can lead to Skin Cancers such as basil cell and melanoma cell cancers. Radiation exposure agents include x-rays and gamma rays. The Radiation Emergency Assistance Center/Training Site (2014) describes the characteristics of x-rays and gammas rays as “electromagnetic radiation like visible light, radio waves, and ultraviolet light”. High and frequent exposure to these agents causes cancer. People who work in nuclear power plants have a greater risk of developing cancer cells than those working in regular office buildings. Small amounts of these agents can be found in medical imaging tests and other sources. Carcinogens or environmental factors leading to cancer provided by the American Cancer Society include:
- Lifestyle factors (nutrition, tobacco use, physical activity, etc.)
- Naturally occurring exposures (ultraviolet light, radon gas, infectious agents, etc.)
- Medical treatments (chemotherapy, radiation, immune system-suppressing drugs, etc.)
- Workplace exposures
- Household exposures
Symptoms of Cancer
The symptoms of cancer depend on the type of cancer you may have. Mayo Clinic (2014) provides a list of the general symptoms people may exhibit from the diseases.
The symptoms include, but are not limited to the following:
- Lump or area of thickening that can be felt under the skin
- Weight changes, including unintended loss or gain
- Skin changes, such as yellowing, darkening or redness of the skin, sores that won’t heal, or changes to existing moles
- Changes to bowel or bladder habits
- Persistent cough
- Difficulty swallowing
- Persistent indigestion or discomfort after eating
- Persistent, unexplained muscle or joint pain
- Persistent, unexplained fevers or night sweats
Diagnosis of Cancer
Physical self-examinations are important preventative measures to diagnosing cancer. If you display one or more of the symptoms expressed in the previous passage, it’s recommended to seek out a physician for a professional opinion. The physician will perform a physical examination of the area in question and take a complete medical history.
A biopsy is usually performed by taking a sample of the lump and examining the cells under a microscope. The American Cancer Society (2014) states that other tests that may be performed include: “x-rays, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound, and fiber-optic endoscopy examinations”. If the tests come back positive for cancer cells, more tests need to be performed to determine exactly what kind of cancer is present and in what stage the cancer is in which is process called staging. The National Cancer Institute has created a chart to show how oncologists categories the stage of their patient’s cancer. The Cancer Staging Chart is provided below.
||Carcinoma in situ (abnormal cells are present only in the layer of cells in which they developed)
|Stage I, Stage II, and Stage III
||Higher numbers indicate more extensive disease: Larger tumor size and/or spread of the cancer beyond the organ in which it first developed to nearby lymph nodes and/or tissues or organs adjacent to the location of the primary tumor
||The cancer has spread to distant tissues or organs
Chart A: Cancer Staging Chart
Treatment of Cancer
Cancer can be treated in many different ways. The traditional methods to treating cancer are surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. New treatments are targeted therapy, immunotherapy, hyperthermia, stem cell transplant, photodynamic therapy, and laser in cancer treatment. Surgery is most often used to get rid of cancer growing inside the body.
Chemotherapy is the use of certain Food and Drug Administration Approved or FDA drugs and medicines to combat the cancer. With radiation therapy, a high-energy beam targeted at the site of the cancer is used. In some cases, a combination of these treatments has been proven to be very effective in getting rid of cancer cells (National Cancer Institute, 2014).
Complementary/Alternative Treatments of Cancer
Complementary/Alternative treatments have not been proven to cure cancer; however they play an active role in reliving the side-effects of cancer treatments. People who are diagnosed with cancer sometimes choose other methods for a variety of reasons.
The National Cancer Institute (2014) describes some of these reasons below:
- They would like to relieve the side effects of mainstream cancer treatment without having to take more medicine.
- They are seeking a less unpleasant treatment approach that might have fewer side effects.
- They want to take an active role in improving their own health and wellness.
- They prefer alternative theories of health and disease, as well as alternative treatments.
In addition to making changes in nutrition, diet and physical exercise, other types of complementary/alternative treatments can help in relieving the side-effects of cancer treatments and in lowering the risk of cancer. The complementary/alternative treatments are specific to the side-effects that manifest.
The Mayo Clinic (2014) provides a chart to show the most appropriate treatment to try for each side-effect from traditional cancer treatments.
If you’re experiencing
Then consider trying
||Hypnosis, massage, meditation, relaxation techniques
||Exercise, massage, relaxation techniquesn, yoga
|Nausea and vomiting
||Acupuncture, aromatherapy,hypnosis, music therapy
||Acupuncture, aromatherapy,hypnosis, biofeedback, massage music therapy
||Exercise relaxation techniquesn, yoga
||Aromatherapy, hypnosis, massage, meditation,exercise, tai chi, yoga
Chart B: Alternative Treatment Chart
American Cancer Society. (2014). Understanding Cancer. Cancer Basics. Retrieved October 16, 2014, from http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancerbasics/index
Guidance for Radiation Accident Management. (2014). Characteristics of Gamma Radiation and X-Rays. Basics of Radiation. Retrieved October 17, 2014, from https://orise.orau.gov/reacts/guide/gamma.htm
Mayo Clinic. (2014). Definition. Cancer. Retrieved October 18, 2014, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cancer/basics/definition/con-20032378
National Cancer Institute. (2014). Defining Cancer. What is Cancer?. Retrieved October 18, 2014, from http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/cancerlibrary/what-is-cancer
This article is written by Hang Pham. Hang Pham is a Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance Health and Wellness Educator. Hang Pham was born in Hoc Mon, Vietnam. She came to America in 1994, becoming a U.S. citizen in 2011. Hang graduated from Seaside High School with diploma and received her AA in General Studies from Monterey Peninsula College in 2011. She received her BA in Collaborative Health and Human Services from California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB) in 2012. In addition to working as a volunteer staff with the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance, she currently works as a Clerical Aid in the Human Resources Department of Salinas City Hall. The Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance is a registered 501 (c) 3 nonprofit health and wellness education organization. For more information about the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance contact us or visit our website at www.montereybayholistic.com.
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