Cancer: An Introduction
Cancer is a group of conditions where the body cells begin to grow and reproduce in an uncontrolled manner. These cells can then invade and destroy healthy tissues. The cells become cancerous or malignant because of DNA damage. This damage can be inherited, or can be caused by mistakes happening while normal cell is reproducing, or by an environmental stimulus like tobacco.
Cancer cells may travel to other parts of the body, where they begin to grow and form new tumours. This is known as metastasis. It happens when cells get into the blood stream or lymph vessels.
Approximately 8,00,000 new cancer cases are diagnosed in India every year. Recent times have seen an increase in cancer incidence in our country. The incidence of cancer and cancer types are influenced by many factors such as age, sex, race, local environmental factors, diet and genetics. In males, lung followed by oral cavity and throat cancers are the most common, while cervical and breast cancers are the most common types of cancer diagnosed in females in India.
Types of cancer
There are over 200 types of cancer, but most fit into the following categories:
Carcinoma: Cancer that begins in the skin or in tissues that line or cover internal organs.
Sarcoma: Cancer that begins in bone, cartilage, fat, muscles or other connective tissue.
Leukaemia: Cancer that starts in blood forming tissue such as bone
Lymphoma and myeloma: Cancers that begin in the cells of the immune system.
- It is important to be aware of unexplained changes to your body.
- Changes in bowel habits – Diarrhoea or constipation for no obvious reasons.
- A sore that doesn’t heal.
- Unusual bleeding or discharge – Unexplained blood in urine, stool, between periods, in vomit and cough.
- Thickening or lump – Consult a doctor if you notice a lump anywhere in your body.
- Indigestion or difficulty in swallowing.
- Obvious change in a wart or a mole.
- Nagging cough / breathlessness /hoarseness – If you have had a cough or breathlessness for more than two weeks, or if you had blood in your phlegm.
What to do if you have worrying symptoms
- Consult your doctor. He will ask simple questions, examine you and may ask for some tests.
- If he/she suspects cancer, then he would refer you to an oncologist.
How to reduce your risk of developing cancer
- STOP smoking or tobacco use in any form.
- Take regular physical exercise of 30-40 minutes per day.
- Eat less calories and low fat diet.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and less of non-vegetarian food.
- Protect your skin from sun and avoid over exposure.
Treatment of cancer
Cancer management is a team work which involves:
Surgery: It refers to the total removal of tumour, and not necessarily the entire organ.
Radiotherapy: It uses X-rays to destroy cancer cells. It is very safe and has fewer side effects.
Chemotherapy: It uses drugs to destroy cancer cells and includes chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy.
Cancer at a glance
- Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of cells anywhere in the body.
- Cancer is preventable by undertaking simple lifestyle changes.
- Low calorie, low fat diet, plenty of fruits and vegetables, regular physical activity, and no tobacco and alcohol use reduce the risk of cancer.
- In case of unexplained weight loss, skin changes, changes in bowel habits, unusual bleeding, voice change, and lumps, please see a doctor.
- Cancer screening is required at regular intervals after the age of 40 to diagnose cancer early.
- Definitive diagnosis is made by examining; and biopsy or cytology if there is any suspicion.
- Cancer is curable. Today with new radiation techniques, several chemo and targeted drugs, and improved surgical techniques, most of the cancers are not only curable but you are assured of a good quality life.