Cancer: An Overview of the Diseases – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

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.

Cancer Loss of Normal Growth

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.
Malignant VS Benign

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:

Types of Cancer

  • 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.

Cancer Survivors

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.

Cancer Survivors
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.

Smoking WomanSome 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.
Cancer and Exercise
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.

20 Cancer Fighting Foods

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
  • Pollution

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.

Cancer SymptomsThe symptoms include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Fatigue
  • 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
  • Hoarseness
  • 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.

Doctor and patient
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.



Stage 0 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
Stage IV 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.

Cancer Patient ExerciseThe 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.

Eating healthy food

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

Anxiety Hypnosis, massage, meditation, relaxation techniques
Fatigue Exercise, massage, relaxation techniquesn, yoga
Nausea and vomiting Acupuncture, aromatherapy,hypnosis, music therapy
Pain Acupuncture, aromatherapy,hypnosis,  biofeedback, massage music therapy
Sleep problems Exercise relaxation techniquesn, yoga
Stress Aromatherapyhypnosis, massage, meditation,exercise, tai chi, yoga

Chart B: Alternative Treatment Chart



American Cancer Society. (2014). Understanding Cancer. Cancer Basics. Retrieved October 16, 2014, from

Guidance for Radiation Accident Management. (2014). Characteristics of Gamma Radiation and X-Rays. Basics of Radiation. Retrieved October 17, 2014, from

Mayo Clinic. (2014). Definition. Cancer. Retrieved October 18, 2014, from

National Cancer Institute. (2014). Defining Cancer. What is Cancer?. Retrieved October 18, 2014, from



This articleHang Pham, MBHA Health Educator 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

The Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance is a charitable, independent registered nonprofit 501(c)3 organization and does not endorse any particular products or practices. We exist as an educational organization dedicated to providing free access to health education resources, products and services. Claims and statements herein are for informational purposes only and have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The statements about organizations, practitioners, methods of treatment, and products listed on this website are not meant to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This information is intended for educational purposes only. The MBHA strongly recommends that you seek out your trusted medical doctor or practitioner for diagnosis and treatment of any existing health condition.

Choosing Foods to Enhance Your Mood – 20 Powerful Mood Boosters!

Can eating certain foods change your mood? Which foods affect us negatively? Which foods make us happy? Do we make good food choices when we are sad?

Top 20 Food Mood Boosters

Can food alter our mood? Which foods make us happier? Which foods make us sad? 20 Powerful Food Mood Boosters!

Hippocrates is credited to saying, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” People have known about the emotional, psychological and physical healing effects of foods since the beginning of time.  But does scientific research back up these findings?

For the past 100 years, nutrition research  has evolved dramatically with animal and human trials showing how certain foods can change the brain structure, effect health and healing and human and animal physiology.  We’ve discovered that foods that directly influence brain neurotransmitter systems have the greatest effect on our moods, expectations, and perceptions.

“What you eat can affect your mood and how well your brain works,” says Judith Wurtman, Ph.D., a former Massachusetts Institute of Technology research scientist and coauthor of The Serotonin Power Diet


People tend to eat foods high in carbohydrates when they are depressed and seeking a lift in their mood.


High fiber foods, like oatmeal, can keep serotonin flowing steadily and prevent mood swings.

According to Dr. Wurtman, in order to have a positive mood effect from eating foods, we should eat carbohydrates that are rich in fiber — like oatmeal, whole-wheat pasta or beans — so that your body will absorb the carbohydrates slowly, keeping serotonin flowing steadily; otherwise, we will digest the food too quickly and cause a mood swing boost followed by another emotional low.

Larry Christensen (1992), concluded in  Effects of Eating Behavior on Mood: A Review of the Literature,  that ” individuals experiencing a negative mood state arising from disorders ranging from tobacco withdrawal to premenstrual symptoms make use of carbohydrate ingestion, especially simple carbohydrates, to provide a temporary lifting of mood. However, other evidence suggests that some individuals may obtain a more permanent control of their negative mood state by eliminating simple carbohydrates from their diet. While the literature is consistent in demonstrating that carbohydrate consumption can alter a negative mood state, the underlying mechanism mediating this relationship is unknown.”


dark chocolate

Dark chocolate is high in magnesium and can reduce depression and anxiety.

Many people are who are depressed and lethargic, are unaware that they are dehydrated and lack sufficient daily intake of water. Dehydration leads to fatigue, depression, confusion, and altered mood.  Increasing daily consumption of water improves memory, stamina and positive outlook.

A primary food that has been shown to boost the mood is dark chocolate which is high in magnesium.  Magnesium calms muscles and reduces anxiety. Dark chocolate also contains tryptophan, which helps reduce symptoms of depression.  Blue potatoes have powerful antioxidants known as anthocyanins.  Anthocyanins provide neuro-protective qualities, and help to reduce the brain inflammation associated with depression.

Honey contains kaempferol and quercetin, which also helps to prevent depression by reducing inflammation in the brain.




Spinach is helpful in raising energy and preventing mood swings.

Spinach is high in folic acid, a B vitamin, and also high in antioxidants that are helpful in raising energy and preventing mood swings.  Probiotics  found in Greek yogurt, for example, can boost the mood and the immune system. Tomatoes also help the brain and boost the mood with its high level of lycopene. Lycopene is an antioxidant that fights brain inflammation.  Eggs contain moderate-to-large amounts of Zinc, Vitamin B, Iodine, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, and protein, and keep you energized.  Research suggests that flavonoids in blueberries  may improve memory, including reasoning, decision making, verbal and numerical problem solving abilities and general cognitive function. Research studies suggest that consuming flavonoids found in blueberries may help provide protection against disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease. Walnuts, salmon and other foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids help the brain.



Fresh vegetable or fruit juices provide necessary enzymes and nutrients to energize the body.

Juiced fresh, raw  fruits, berries, or vegetables give an energy boost and feeling of mental alertness and exhilaration. Fresh vegetable and fruit juices are an easy way for everyone to get essential enzymes, minerals, vitamins  and nutrients that people may not normally get in a daily diet. Raw juices with dark leafy greens are loaded with antioxidants that can help detoxify, revitalize and restore depleted energy.


Calm woman

Certain foods have a calming effect on the body and aid in reducing depression. Omega-3 fatty acids may boost the mood.

Much research has been conducted in recent years on the benefits of eating foods high in Omega 3 fatty acids, but do these foods affect the mood?   According to results of a study presented on Mar. 4, 2006 by University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine researchers at the 64th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society in Denver, Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids may influence mood, personality and behavior. Researchers studied 106 healthy volunteers, and  found that participants who had lower blood levels of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids were more likely to report mild or moderate symptoms of depression, a more negative outlook and be more impulsive. Conversely, those with higher blood levels of omega-3s were found to be more agreeable. The study was conducted by Dr. Sarah Conklin, and others, and was funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH),

Omega 3 Foods

Foods rich in Omega 3 Fatty acids include salmon, walnuts, olive oil, flax seed, brussels sprouts and broccoli.

Some foods which are high in Omega 3 fatty acids are: flaxseed oil, fish oil, walnut oil, salmon, mackerel, chia seeds, sardines, radish seeds, fresh basil, walnuts, brussels sprouts, and broccoli. Sometimes other foods such as cereals, bread, yogurt, orange juice, milk, and eggs are  fortified with omega-3 fatty acids.  Comparisons were made by analyzing levels of omega-3 fatty acids in participants’ blood and comparing that data to the participants’ scores on three accepted tests for depression, impulsiveness and personality.  This study by Dr. Sarah Conklin, was co-authored by Jennifer I. Harris, M.D., psychiatry resident, department of psychiatry, Brown University; Stephen B. Manuck, Ph.D., University Professor of Health Psychology and Behavioral Medicine, department of psychology, University of Pittsburgh; Joseph R. Hibbeln, M.D., chief of outpatient clinic, Lab of Membrane Biophysics and Biochemistry, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, NIH; and Matthew F. Muldoon, M.D., associate professor, department of medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

chamomile tea

Chamomile tea is helpful in calming the nerves and inducing sleepiness.


can be very calming as is Valerian root.  Both are helpful in calming the nerves and inducing sleep.   Green tea is high in theanine, an antioxidant which has a calming effect.   Avocados contain serotonin, a “feel-good” neurotransmitter.

For many years serotonin has been known to play an important  role in calming the body and in inducing sleep.  However,  according to a study by Portas CM, Bjorvatn B, Ursin R., (2000), serotonin plays a dual role, affecting both the sleeping and waking cycle and can also be a cause of insomnia or wakefulness.  Researchers conclude, “The apparent inconsistency between an inhibitory and a facilitatory role played by serotonin on sleep has at least two possible explanations. On the one hand serotonergic modulation on the sleep/wake cycle takes place through a multitude of post-synaptic receptors which mediate different or even opposite responses; on the other hand the achievement of a behavioral state depends on the complex interaction between the serotonergic and other neurotransmitter systems.”


Students eating pistachios had reduced stress before a math test

A study using pistachios showed that  1 1/2 oz of these nuts reduced the effects of stress on people taking a math test in a Penn State University study, Effects of Pistachios on Cardiovascular Responses to Stress in Type 2 Diabetes.”

“Participants still found the test to be stressful, but their blood pressure response was lower than when they took the same test while consuming a low-fat diet,” says study author Sheila West, Ph.D.


Seedless grapes

More people watching sad movie preferred popcorn over grapes. People watching the happy movie consumed more grapes and less popcorn.

Brian Wansink, the John S. Dyson Professor of Marketing, Applied Economics and Management at Cornell, Nitika Garg of the University of Mississippi and J. Jeffrey Inman of the University of Pittsburgh, conducted a study which was published in the January 2007 issue of the Journal of MarketingThe Influence of Incidental Affect on Consumers’ Food Intake.  The study found that people eat more less-healthy comfort foods when they are sad. Participants either watched a happy or a sad movie and were provided with the choice of eating buttered popcorn or seedless grapes during the movie. The group watching the happy movie consumed significantly more grapes and less popcorn than the group watching the sad movie.

“While each of us may look for a comfort food when we are either sad or happy, we are likely to eat more of it when we are sad,”
Wansink concluded.

The researchers found that the sad people with no nutritional information ate twice as much popcorn as those feeling happy. Additionally, when participants were provided with nutritional information, the sad movie attendees consumed less popcorn than the happy movie attendees and the happy group didn’t change their eating habits and continued to eat more grapes.

Researchers Schotte,  Cools, and  McNally came to similar conclusions in a 1990 study. Sixty women were classified as either restrained or unrestrained eaters on the basis of their responses to the Revised Restraint Scale, and exposed to frightening films.  Subjects classified as “high restraint” exposed to the frightening film ate more than did equally restrained subjects exposed to a neutral film or low restraint subjects exposed to either film.

Woman yogurt

Yogurt can be beneficial in reducing depression and boosting the mood.

Foods have been shown to have powerful and even addictive qualities because of their effects on mood.  Haddock and Dill (2000) in an article reviewing of  the psychoactive effects of food and mood on obesity and eating disorders, concluded,

“The addictions model of obesity claims that individuals gain excess weight due to their dependence on and inability to control the intake of certain food substances. The dependence and lack of control over these food substances is undergirded by, according to the addictions model, the psychoactive properties of foods. The article reviews the literature on the purported psychoactive effects of foods and concludes that although, under certain circumstances, some food substances may have subtle effects on mood and behavior, the effects of food are quite different from that of psychoactive drugs such as nicotine and alcohol. Therefore, the food addictions model is unlikely to provide a fruitful paradigm for understanding the complex problem of obesity.”

Christensen L, Effects of Eating Behavior on Mood: A Review of the Literature, International Journal of Eating Disorders, John Wiley & Sons, 14 September 1992.

Gebauer SK, West SG, Kay CD, Alaupovic P, Bagshaw D, Kris-Etherton PM. Effects of pistachios on cardiovascular disease risk factors and potential mechanisms of action: a dose-response study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Sep;88(3):651-9.

Haddock  CK, Dill PL, The Effects of Food on Mood and Behavior: Implications for the Addictions Model of Obesity and Eating Disorders, Drugs & Society, Volume 15, Issue 1-2, 2000

Nitika Garg, Brian Wansink, and J. Jeffrey Inman (2007) The Influence of Incidental Affect on Consumers’ Food Intake. Journal of Marketing: January 2007, Vol. 71, No. 1, pp. 194-206.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids Influence Mood, Impulsivity And Personality, Study Indicates UPMC/University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Denver, March 3, 2006

Portas CM, Bjorvatn B, Ursin R., Serotonin and the sleep/wake cycle: special emphasis on microdialysis studies., Prog Neurobiol. 2000 Jan;60(1):13-35.

Schotte, David E.; Cools, Joseph; McNally, Richard J.  Film-induced negative affect triggers overeating in restrained eaters. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Vol 99(3), Aug 1990, 317-320.

West SG, Effects of Pistachios on Cardiovascular Responses to Stress in Type 2 Diabetes, Penn State University, General Clinical Research Center, University Park, Pennsylvania, United States, 16802-6501

Wurtman  JJ. and Frusztajer NT., The Serotonin Power Diet Rodale Books; 1 edition, December 22, 2009 



Jean E. DartThis article is written by Jean Voice Dart, M.S. Special Education from Illinois State University. Jean is a published author and has written hundreds of health articles as well as hosting a local television program, “Making Miracles Happen.” She is a Registered Music Therapist, Sound Therapist, and Master Level Energetic Teacher, and is the Executive Director, founder and Health and Wellness Educator of the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance. 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

Disclaimer: The Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance is a charitable, independent registered nonprofit 501(c)3 organization and does not endorse any particular products or practices. We exist as an educational organization dedicated to providing free access to health education resources, products and services. Claims and statements herein are for informational purposes only and have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The statements about organizations, practitioners, methods of treatment, and products listed on this website are not meant to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This information is intended for educational purposes only. The MBHA strongly recommends that you seek out your trusted medical doctor or practitioner for diagnosis and treatment of any existing health condition.