Cancer is a deadly disease, which can occur at any age affecting the physical as well as mental system of the body. It is characterized by uncontrolled growth of cell. Medically, it is known as malignant neoplasia. In this deadly disease, cells in the body divide abnormally and grow uncontrollably leading to malignant tumors. Malignant tumors may spread to other adjacent parts of the body through bloodstream or lymphatic system. More than 100 different types of cancer exist and are named after the organ attacked or the type of cell affected.

  • Categories of Cancer

  • Metastasis

  • Etiology of cancer

  • What are the signs and symptoms of cancer?

  • When you should consult a doctor?

  • Diagnosis and tests to detect cancer

  • Staging of cancer

  • Management of cancer

  • Alternative therapies for cancer treatment

  • Natural or Home remedies for cancer care

Different types of cancer are grouped into different categories. Following are the main categories of Cancer –

  • Carcinoma –
    Cancer that occurs in tissues or in skin that covers internal organs of the body are termed as carcinoma.
    Subtypes of carcinoma are

    • Adenocarcinoma
    • Squamous cell carcinoma
    • Basal cell carcinoma
    • Transitional carcinoma

  • Sarcoma –
    Cancer that occurs in fat, blood vessels, bone, cartilage, supportive or connective tissue, for e.g. osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, etc.
  • Lymphoma and Myeloma –
    Cancer that occurs in the blood cells (white blood cells, B or T lymphocytes) that form a component of the immune system. Lymphoma may occur in lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow, blood or other organs.
  • Leukemia –
    Cancer that occurs in blood or blood-forming tissue like bone marrow are termed as leukemia.

Not every tumor is malignant or cancerous; few tumors do not invade the nearby tissue or organ and do not spread throughout the body, such tumors are called as benign tumors. Usually, these tumors are asymptomatic or may cause symptoms depending on the organ attacked and tissue type.

Metastasis or metastatic cancer is the process of spreading of cancer cells from one tissue or organ to the other. Usually, in cancer metastasis, cancer cell spread through blood stream or lymphatic system. There is uncontrollable proliferation of cells in a tissue invading the other tissue with progressive genetic damage. The clinical features of metastatic cancers depend on the site of the tumor associated with lymph node enlargement, enlarged spleen or liver, neurological problems, abdominal pain, etc.

Common types of cancer

  • Bladder cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Cervical cancer
  • Colon or rectal cancer
  • Gall bladder cancer
  • Bile duct cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Adrenal cancer
  • Endometrial cancer
  • Renal cell carcinoma (Kidney cancer)
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma or liver cirrhosis (Liver cancer)
  • Lymphoma (Hodgkin’s and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma)
  • Melanoma (Skin cancer)
  • Multiple Myeloma
  • Osteosarcoma
  • Testicular cancer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Kaposi’s Sarcoma
  • Wills tumor
  • Thyroid cancer
  • Neuroblastoma
  • Brain tumor
  • Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) and Chronic MyeloidLeukemia (CML)
  • Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL) and Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)
  • Nasopharyngeal cancer
  • Penile cancer
  • Retinoblastoma
  • Uterine sarcoma
  • Thymus cancer
  • Esophageal cancer

There are innumerable, complex and partially understood causes of cancer. Few external factors such as environmental pollution, infections, radiation, obesity, tobacco uses, etc. damages genetic structure within the cells causing cancerous mutations. Around, 5 to 10% of cancers are caused due to inherited genetic faults.

  • Hereditary –
  • Hereditary cancers are caused due to inherited genetic defect. Few inherited mutations in the genes are responsible for ovarian cancer, breast cancer and colorectal cancer.

  • Infection –
  • Approximately, 18% of cancer deaths are caused due to infectious diseases. Bacteria, viruses and parasites are responsible for various cancers.
    Few cancers caused due to viruses and bacteria, are as follows:
    Cervical carcinoma – Human papillomavirus
    Hepatocellular carcinoma – Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C virus
    B-cell lymph proliferative disease and nasopharyngeal carcinoma – Epstein-Barr virus
    T-cell leukemia – Human T-cell leukemia virus-1
    Kaposi’s sarcoma – Kaposi’s sarcoma herpes virus
    Gastric carcinoma – Helicobacter pylori (bacterial infection)
    Squamous cell carcinoma of bladder – Schistosoma haematobium (parasite)

  • Chemicals and toxins –
  • Most of the lung cancers are associated with tobacco smoking. Tobacco smoking causes 90% lung cancer and many other forms of gastro-intestinal cancers. Tobacco smoke contains many known carcinogens such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, nitrosamines, benzene, etc. which are responsible for lung cancer.
    Chronic alcoholism may lead to gastro-intestinal cancers and cirrhosis of liver.
    Occupational hazards – Many workers are at the risk of developing mesothelioma and lung cancer due to inhalation of asbestos and tobacco smoke. Prolonged exposure to benzene at workplaces can lead to leukemia.

  • Radiation –
  • Approximately, 10% of invasive cancer cases are caused due to exposure to radiations such as ultraviolent (UV) radiation, ionizing radiation and non-ionizing radiation.
    Ionizing radiations, such as radon gas and medical imaging, are responsible for certain types of leukemia. However, few ionizing radiations are used to treat cancer i.e. radiotherapy.
    Non-ionizing radiations such as electric power transmission, mobile phones, radio frequency, etc. may increase the risk of cancer.
    Long-term exposure to Ultraviolent (UV) rays emitted from sun can cause melanoma and other skin cancers.

  • Hormonal imbalance –
  • Few hormones are responsible in development of cancer by cell proliferation.
    High levels of estrogen and progesterone – Breast cancer
    High levels of testosterone – Prostate cancer
    Excessive use of growth hormones – Osteosarcoma
    Other cancers such as endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid cancer and bone cancer, are associated with hormonal imbalance.

  • Unhealthy diet and lack of exercise –
  • Around 30-35% of cancer deaths are caused due to unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity and obesity. Lack of exercise and unhealthy diet affects your endocrine system and immune system. Red meat is responsible for gastro-intestinal cancers. High-salt diet can lead to colon cancer, liver cancer and gastric cancer.

  • Other –
  • Few cancers such as acute leukemia, melanoma, lymphoma and carcinoma may affect the fetus from mother through transplacental transmission.

The clinical features of cancer may vary depending on the type, location and organ affected.

  • General signs and symptoms caused by cancer –
    • Generalized weakness
    • Anorexia (loss of appetite)
    • Unexplained weight loss
    • Frequent, unexplained pain in muscles or joints
    • Continuous, unexplained fever with rigors or night sweats
    • Fatigue or malaise
    • Changes in bladed or bowel habits

    These clinical features may occur in cancers such as liver cancer, kidney cancer, leukemias and lymphomas, etc.

    One may experience local signs and symptoms, depending on the organ or the part affected by cancer. Localized symptoms may occur due to the tumor mass or the ulceration.

  • Few local signs and symptoms associated with the target organ affected by cancer, as follows:
    • Changes in bowel habits due to narrowing of colon or bowel – Colorectal cancer
    • Pain and difficulty in swallowing food or liquids due to narrowing of esophagus – Esophageal cancer
    • Persistent cough or pneumonia due to blockage in bronchus – Lung cancer
    • Localized pain with lump or feeling of mass, sometimes painless, seen in breast cancer and testicular cancer
    • Bleeding due to ulceration often seen as hemoptysis i.e. coughing or vomiting of blood (lung cancer), blood in urine (bladder cancer), vaginal bleeding (uterine affections), or rectal bleeding (anemia or colorectal cancer).
    • Skin ulcerations, indurated lesions, hypo-pigmentation or hyper-pigmentation of skin indicates skin cancers such as melanoma

Metastatic cancer – The signs and symptoms of metastatic cancers are detected on the type and location of the tumor. Enlarged liver (Hepatomegaly), enlarged spleen (Splenomegaly), or enlarged lymph nodes (palpated under the skin and are usually hard), easy fractures of bone and neurological symptoms associated with fatigue or malaise.

If you experience any of the above-mentioned signs and symptoms occurring repeatedly or frequently, you should see a physician for medical examination.
If you are not suffering from any symptoms, but you are worried of getting cancer, you should consult your physician, discuss about your concerns, and ask about screening tests or procedures suitable for you. This will help you in early detection and diagnosis of the cancer with timely treatment depending on the stage of the cancer. Usually, initial stage of cancer is curable with appropriate management; hence, early detection is the best protection.

Risk factors –
One should know what are the risk factors involved in cancer or development of cancer.

  • Age –
  • It takes long time for a cancer to develop, hence people are usually diagnosed with cancer at the age of 65 or above. However, few cancers are common in adults and children. Therefore, cancer can occur at any age.

  • Family history –
  • Few cancers are caused due to inherited genetic influence. If you have strong family history of cancer, it is more likely that the genetic mutations are transferred from one generation to the other. Hence, you might be at risk of getting cancer; you should undergo proper genetic testing or counseling.

  • Medical or health conditions –
  • Prolonged infectious or chronic inflammatory diseases can lead to certain types of cancer. For example, chronic health conditions such as ulcerative colitis may increase your risk of developing gastro-intestinal tract cancers. Hence, you should consult your physician and get the appropriate treatment for chronic health conditions.

  • Habits and lifestyle –
  • Unhealthy lifestyle such as smoking, consuming excessive alcohol, obesity, unsafe sex, prolong exposure to sun causing skin blisters or sunburn; increases your risk of cancer. Choosing health lifestyle habits decreases your chance of getting cancer.

  • Environment –
  • Inhaling harmful chemicals and smoke increases your risk of cancer

Diagnosis of cancer is crucial to determine the stages or grade of the cancer. Few cancers are curable if they are detected at a very early stage with suitable therapies and management.
Your physician may examine you with one or more examinations or tests to detect your cancer, which are as follows –

  • Physical examination –
    Your physician may palpate areas of your body for mass or lump that may be a tumor or other swelling. Your health care provider will look for changes in skin color, texture, tenderness or swelling of organ, which may suggest presence of malignancy.
  • Laboratory investigations –
    Laboratory investigations of blood, urine or stools may help your doctor to detect certain cancers. For example, a simple blood test such as CBC (complete blood count) may show unusual number of white or red blood cells suggesting leukemias, though one may require further investigations for staging of cancer.
  • Biopsy –
    Biopsy is an important procedure conducted by your physician by collecting sample of tissue or cells, bone marrow for histo-pathological analysis, which is usually done under the microscope that helps in detecting cancer, pre-cancerous stage or inflammatory conditions. There are different procedures to collect samples for biopsy. In majority of the cases, biopsy is the only test to diagnose cancer.
  • Imaging tests –
    Imaging tests helps your physician to examine your internal organs and bones. Imaging tests such as X-ray, ultrasound, CT (computerized tomography) scan, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), bone scan and other imaging scans are used to detect cancer.

Staging of cancer is a process of determining the stage or extent of the cancer using clinical stage and pathologic stage by TNM (Tumor, Node, Metastasis) staging system.
Generally, stages of cancer are indicted by using Roman numerals i.e. I to IV. The higher numerical suggests more advanced cancer.

  • Stage 0
  • – Carcinoma in situ, it is the early form of the cancer characterized by absence of invasion of malignant cells into the neighboring tissue.

  • Stage I
  • – In this stage, cancer is localized to one organ or the part of the body. Stage I cancer can be removed surgically, if it is a small tumor.

  • Stage II
  • – In this stage, cancer is locally advanced. This stage can be managed by chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery.

  • Stage III
  • – This stage is similar to stage II cancer. For example, in case of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, stage II suggests involvement of affected lymph nodes on one side of the diaphragm and stage III suggests involvement of affected lymph nodes above and below the diaphragm. This stage can be managed by chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery.

  • Stage IV
  • – It is an advanced stage of the cancer. Metastatic cancers come under this stage.

Your physician after considering the signs and symptoms, type of the cancer, and stage of the cancer; gives you the best suitable and appropriate treatment for controlling or curing the cancer.

Following are the cancer treatments used in managing different cancers –

  • Chemotherapy –
    Chemotherapy is a widely used therapy in treating various cancers. In chemotherapy, one or more chemotherapeutic agents such as cytotoxic drugs or anti-neoplastic drugs are used to kill the cancer cells. Usually, alkylating agents and antimetabolites are used in anticancer treatment. Targeted therapy is a type of chemotherapy used in breast cancer, prostate cancer, melanoma, multiple myeloma, lymphomas, etc. The effectiveness and efficacy of chemotherapy depends on the stage and type of the cancer.
    Drugs such as Lomustine, Mechlorethamine, Chlorambucil, Dacarbazine, Temozolomide, 5-fluorouracil, 6-mercaptopurine, Methotrexate, etc. are used in chemotherapy.
  • Radiation –
    Radiotherapy or radiation therapy is used in treatment of various cancers using ionizing radiation. The goal is either to improve the symptoms or to cure the cancer. In radiation, due to ionization the DNA of cancerous tissue is damaged by killing the cells. There are two types of radiation viz. internal radiation (brachytherapy) and external beam radiation.  It is used in combination with chemotherapy or surgery depending on the stage and type of the cancer.
  • Surgery –
    Surgery is a widely used treatment in case of many cancers. It is the procedure of removing the affected organ in case of localized cancer. The aim is to stop the spreading of cancer and plays a role in palliating the disease with prolongation of survival. In certain cancers, surgery is advised to eliminate the malignancy.
  • Hormone Therapy –
    Some cancers such as breast cancer and prostate cancer are aggravated due to naturally secreted body’s hormones. Blocking or removing these hormones helps in prevention or growth of cancer cells. In breast cancer, few drugs such as Anastrozole (Generic Arimidex), Letrozole, etc. are used to inhibit the estrogen, which helps in preventing and controlling the growth of cancer cells.
  • Biological therapy –
    It is a type of treatment, which works with the immune system of the body. In this therapy, your immune system fights with cancer.
  • Stem cell transplant –
    Bone marrow transplant is a procedure in which stem cells are transplanted from your own stem cells or from a donor. Bone marrow is found in the bones that help you in producing new blood cells.
  • Palliative treatment –
    In palliative care, the ultimate aim is to make the person feel comfortable and improve the patient’s quality of life, with or without the treatment of cancer. It is used in highly advanced stage of cancer, where the cancer is incurable and palliation is the only option. It is a kind of psychological counseling wherein a palliative health care provider tries to reduce the physical, spiritual, emotional and psycho-social trauma suffered by people after the diagnosis of cancer.
  • Alternative therapies –
    Few people try complementary medicines and alternative medicines to treat their cancer. However, rigorous studies are been conducted on alternative therapies, researchers claim that they are less effective.

If you want to get rid of signs and symptoms caused due to cancer or cancer treatment, you can use alternative therapies. Alternative therapies will not cure your cancer, but will suffice your signs and symptoms, if implemented under the healthcare expert.
Common symptoms such as generalized weakness, nausea, headache, pain, vomiting, anxiety, stress and insomnia may be reduced by using alternative therapies.

Few alternative therapies that are useful, are as follows –

  • Acupuncture – In this therapy, the acupuncture specialist inserts tiny needles at specific points into your skin. It helps in relieving nausea and pain caused due to chemotherapy. If you are under blood thinner medication or suffering from low blood counts, inform your practitioner before undergoing acupuncture therapy.
  • Biofeedback – It is a specific therapy practiced by biofeedback therapist using an electronic device to analyze your body functions such as heart rate and muscle tension. In this therapy, your mind controls blood flow and heart rate. It is helpful in relieving pain and anxiety in people suffering from cancer.
  • Aromatherapy – In aromatherapy, fragrant oils are used to calm your senses by applying them to your skin during massage or inhalation of scents through air. It helps in relieving pain, nausea and stress.
  • Massage therapy – A certified therapist performs gentle massages to provide relief from stress and muscle tension; this helps in relaxing the body and mind. It is useful in relieving pain, fatigue, stress and anxiety. If your blood counts are low, inform your massage therapist before starting up with this therapy.
  • Hypnosis – If you want to go for this therapy, you should consult a certified therapist who is expert in hypnotherapy. It is a deep state of concentration where in a therapist may hypnotize you by gentle talks and helps you relax with peace of mind. The therapist will ask you to focus on controlling your pain and anxiety.
  • Music therapy – In this therapy, you may have to play instruments, sing songs, listen to music, etc. generally participated in groups. These exercises may help you in controlling your nausea and pain.
  • Relaxation techniques – In this therapy, activities such as progressive muscle relaxation or visualization exercises are practiced. These are the ways of relaxing your muscles and calming your mind. It is useful in relieving fatigue, anxiety and sleeplessness.
  • Exercise – Exercise is a kind of physical activity that helps you in managing signs and symptoms during and after chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. If you are planning to exercise during or after cancer treatment, you should consult your physician. You should go for gentle exercises such as brisk walking or swimming, which will help you in coping with stress, fatigue and insomnia. One can aim up to 20 minutes of exercise daily.
  • Yoga – Yoga includes various asanas or postures that are associated with stretching exercises and deep breathing. You should practice yoga under a certified yoga trainer or instructor. Yoga helps in coping with stress caused due to cancer. It also reduces fatigue and improves sleep.
  • Meditation – While meditating you should focus on your mind on sound, or one image, or idea with positive thoughts. During this process, you should also do deep breathing with relaxation exercises.  It relieves stress and anxiety.

“Prevention is better than cure”. One should follow the preventive measure to reduce the risk of cancer. More than 30% of cancer mortality could be prevented by avoiding certain risk factors.
One can follow few cancer preventive measures, which are as follows –

  • Avoid Smoking –
    Smoking causes various types of cancer such as lung cancer, bladder cancer, kidney and cervix cancer, oral cancer and gastro-intestinal cancers. Secondhand or passive smoking may also increase the risk of lung cancer. Avoiding tobacco is an important part of cancer prevention.
  • Consume healthy diet –
    Unhealthy diet leads to various gastro-intestinal cancers.
    One should consume plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, whole-grains and beans.
    Limit your fat (cholesterol and triglycerides) intake.
    Consume diet rich in vitamins, mineral, omega 3 fatty acids, etc.
  • Maintain your body mass index (BMI) –
    Physical activity such as mild exercises, aerobic exercises, brisk walking, swimming, jogging and other cardiovascular exercises are helpful in maintaining BMI. Physical exercises lower the risk of colon cancer and breast cancer. One should plan a daily physical activity of approximately 30 minutes including moderate to vigorous activity.
  • Immunization –
    Hepatitis B infection can lead to liver cancer, hence hepatitis B vaccine is suggested for high-risk adults. Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection leads to cervical cancer; hence, HPV vaccine is suggested for women.
  • Sun protection –
    Ultraviolent (UV) rays are emitted from the sun, prolonged exposure to UV rays can lead to melanoma or other skin cancers. You should apply sunscreens with SPF of at least 15. You should try to stay in shades as much as possible and you should use loose-fitting clothing to cover the exposed parts of the body while going outside in the sun.
  • Regular medical checkup –
    Self-examination and screening of breast should be done regularly for any lumps or swelling.  Regular medical checkup with your physician helps in detecting or diagnosing early signs of cancer, if any. Early diagnosis of disease can be treated successfully.

Few herbs and natural remedies has been found beneficial for certain types of cancer.

Below you will find few home remedies that are useful in treating cancer –

  • Ginseng – Ginseng acts as an aphrodisiac and stimulant. It is useful in building resistance and immunity. It helps in fighting with infectious agents that damages the body’s function. Hence, it can be used in various cancer caused due to long-term infections.
  • Broccoli – Broccoli contains various nutrients with powerful anti-cancer properties. This home remedy acts as an antioxidant and carriers few enzymes that help in detoxifying the body. It contains diindolylmethane (DIM) and little amounts of selenium. The phytochemicals present in Broccoli has the ability to combat against cancer cells. Broccoli is useful in treating gastro-intestinal cancers such as colorectal cancers. The sprouts of this natural remedy should be taken for better results.
  • Soybeans – Soybeans contains isoflavones and phytoestrogens. Isoflavones helps in prevention of cancer in early stages of malignancy, whereas phytoestrogens helps in blocking the cancerous or malignant cells from using estrogen hormone. Soybeans are helpful in preventing certain cancer such as colon, lung, breast and prostate cancer. One can consume Soybeans in the form of cooked vegetables or in the form of sprouts.
  • Wheat grass – Wheat grass is a potent natural remedy for many people suffering from cancer. According to a well-known cancer institute, wheat grass if consumed in raw form or in the juice form helps in retarding the growth of malignant cells. It also enhances immune system and eliminates waste products or toxins accumulated in the body.
  • Green tea – Consuming green tea on regular basis prevents cancer. Green tea has anti-inflammatory properties and helps in certain cancer such as prostate, liver, breast, pancreatic and skin cancer.
  • Aloe Vera– One can consume aloe vera in the form of jelly for better effects. Aloe vera is helpful in preventing lung and prostate cancer.
  • Grapes – Grapes reduces the production of estrogen. They are useful in treatment of breast, colon, lung and prostate cancer.
  • Maitake Mushroom – They are also called as dancing mushrooms. It is useful in increasing the efficacy of radiation therapy and chemotherapy, and reduces the drug reactions caused due to chemotherapy such as nausea and hair loss. You can consume raw or grilled mushroom for desired effect.
  • Lycopene – Abundant amount of lycopene is found in guava, grapes, papayas, tomatoes, watermelon and apricots. It acts as an anti-oxidant and helps in the treatment of stomach, lung and prostate cancer.
  • Olive oil
    – Olive oil reduces the risk of malignancy, and is known for various health benefits. Olive oil contains an important compound, hydroxytyrosol that prevents breast cancer.

Nutritious foodstuffs such as carrots, bananas, cucumbers, peas, lentils, corn and spinach should be consumed if you are suffering from cancer. Protein-rich food such as sprouts and lentils are advised in patients suffering from cancer. You should not consume excess amount of red meat, as it can lead to colon and prostate cancer.
Cancer can affect any human being; hence, you should be careful while maintaining your health. You should practice healthy lifestyle to avoid health sufferings.

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