Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of cells
Normal cells in the body follow an orderly path of growth, division, and death. But in some people these cells may go out of order and start multiplying fast without any control leading to formation of mass called tumours. Cancer is a disease which is characterized uncontrolled growth of cells in our body. There are many types of cancer. Cancer is classified on the basis of type of cell that is initially affected. Cancer harms the body when damaged cells divide without control to form lumps or masses of tissue called tumours. These tumours can grow gradually and interfere other systems of the body and in some cases also destroy healthy tissues in the process of spreading. These tumours can even release hormones that alter body function. If a tumour successfully spreads to other parts of the body and grows, invading and destroying other healthy tissues then it is said to have metastasized. This process is called as metastasis. Such a situation is a very serious condition and it becomes is very difficult to treat. The researchers say that cancer deaths are mainly due to metastatic tumors, those that grow from cells and travel from their original site to another part of the body.
What causes cancer?
Till today the exact cause of cancer is not known. But there are certain things or factors that may increase the risk of getting cancer. Some of the most common cancer risk factors are as follows.
- Cancer starts from a single cell. The transformation from a normal cell into a tumour cell is a multistage and a gradual process. During this process, a progression from a pre-cancerous lesion to cancerous tumours takes place. These changes may be the result of the interaction between a person’s genetic factors or external agents called carcinogens. The carcinogens are the substances or an agent directly involved in causing cancer. These carcinogens may be ultraviolet and ionizing radiation, asbestos, components of tobacco smoke, aflatoxin (a food contaminant) and arsenic (a drinking water contaminant) , infections from certain viruses, bacteria or parasites.
- Ageing is another important factor for the development of cancer. The incidence of cancer rises dramatically with age, most likely due to a build-up of risks for specific cancers that increase with age.
- Chronic infections from hepatitis B (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV) and some types of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) are also leading risk factors for cancer. For example, cervical cancer, which is caused by HPV, is a leading cause of cancer death among women in low-income countries.
- Tobacco use
Excess alcohol intake
- being overweight or obese
- unhealthy diet with low fruit and vegetable intake
- Physical inactivity
- Sexually transmitted HPV-infection
- What are the symptoms of cancer?
Symptoms of cancer are quite varied and depend on where the cancer is located, where it has spread, and how big the tumour is. Many types of cancer do not exhibit conspicuous symptoms or cause pain until well advanced. Since early-stage cancer symptoms tend to be subtle, they are often disregarded for something less serious. Sometimes, cancer can be found before the disease causes symptoms. Cancer can cause a variety of symptoms and it might differ from one type of cancer to another. Some of the symptoms associated with cancer are listed below. These symptoms may be due to some other diseases also. Hence it is always better to see doctor at the earliest when one or more of the following symptoms arise.
- Fever, fatigue, excessive sweating, anemia, and unexplained weight loss.
- Swollen or enlarged lymph nodes
- Vertigo, headaches, or seizures.
- Coughing and shortness of breath.
- Bones can become painful, brittle, and break easily.
- Thickening or lump in the breast or any other part of the body
- Changes in bowel or bladder habits
- Obvious change in a wart or mole
- A sore that does not heal
- Nagging cough or hoarseness
- Indigestion or difficulty swallowing
- Unexplained changes in weight
- Unusual bleeding or discharge
- How is cancer classified?
There are five broad groups that are used to classify cancer.
- Carcinomas begin in cells that cover internal and external parts of the body such as lung, breast, and colon cancer.
Sarcomas begin in cells that are located in bone, cartilage, fat, connective tissue, muscle, and other supportive tissues.
Lymphomas are cancers that begin in the lymph nodes and immune system tissues.
Leukemias are cancers that begin in the bone marrow and often accumulate in the bloodstream.
Adenomas are cancers that arise in the thyroid, the pituitary gland, the adrenal gland, and other glandular tissues.
- How is cancer diagnosed?
Early detection of cancer is very important for the successful treatment and survival of the cancer patient. Doctors do a thorough medical examination and history taking of the patient. Imaging techniques such as X-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, PET scans, endoscopy and ultrasound scans are used regularly in order to detect where a tumor is located and what organs may be affected by it.
How is cancer treated?
Cancer treatment depends on various factors. The treatment plan is usually decided by multi- disciplinary team of doctors and specialists. Cancer treatment depends on the type of cancer, the stage of the cancer, age, health status, and additional personal characteristics. There is no single treatment for cancer, and patients often receive a combination of therapies and palliative care. Treatments usually fall into one of the following categories: surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, hormone therapy, or gene therapy.
1) Surgery: If a cancer has not spread to other tissues or organs (metastasized), it is possible to completely cure a patient by surgically removing the cancer from the body.
2) Radiation: In radiation treatment or radiotherapy the cancer cells are destroyed by focusing high-energy rays on the cancer cells. Radiotherapy utilizes high-energy gamma-rays that are emitted from metals such as radium or high-energy x-rays that are created in a special machine. Radiotherapy is used as a standalone treatment to shrink a tumor or destroy cancer cells and it is also used in combination with other cancer treatments.
3) Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses certain special drugs or medicines to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy targets any rapidly dividing cells. However normal cells usually can recover from any chemical-induced damage while cancer cells cannot. Chemotherapy is generally used to treat cancer that has spread because the medicines travel throughout the entire body. Chemotherapy treatment occurs in few different sittings or cycles so the body has time to heal between doses. There are some side effects such as hair loss, nausea, fatigue, and vomiting. Chemotherapy can be combined with other treatment options.
4) Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy aims to get the body’s immune system to fight the tumor. Immunotherapy can also be considered non-specific if it improves cancer-fighting abilities by stimulating the entire immune system, and it can be considered targeted if the treatment specifically tells the immune system to destroy cancer cells. These therapies are relatively young, but researchers have had success in treating certain cancers to some extent and are hopeful that with research there may be better outcomes in future.
5) Hormone therapy: Several cancers have been linked to some types of hormones. Most notably among them are the breast cancer and prostate cancer. Hormone therapy is designed to alter hormone production in the body so that cancer cells stop growing or are killed completely.
6) Gene therapy: The goal of gene therapy is to replace damaged genes with ones that work to address a root cause of cancer. Gene therapy is a very young field and has not yet resulted in any successful treatments.
How can cancer be prevented?
Some studies suggest that nearly 25 to 30 % of the cancers can be prevented by doing some lifestyle modifications . If you are a current tobacco user oe drink too much alcohol then quitting can still greatly reduce your chances of getting cancer. Do not expose your skin to too much of sunlight and you can reduce skin cancer risk by staying in the shade, protecting yourself with a hat and shirt when in the sun, and using sunscreen. Diet also plays a vital role in the cancer prevention. Hence doctors may recommend diets that are low in fat and rich in fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Certain vaccinations have been associated with the prevention of some cancers. For example, many women receive a vaccination for the human papillomavirus because of the virus’s relationship with cervical cancer. Hepatitis B vaccines prevent the hepatitis B virus, which can cause liver cancer.Some cancer prevention is based on systematic screening in order to detect small irregularities or tumors as early as possible even if there are no clear symptoms present. Breast self-examination, mammograms, testicular self-examination, and Pap smears are common screening methods for various cancers.
Cancer Treatment at top cancer hospitals in India
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