In the past few years, cancer has developed to become one of the major leading causes of deaths across the globe. The disease can be described as the uncontrolled growth or development of abnormal cells in the body even as cancerous cells are also known as malignant cells. Since cells are the building blocks of humans and other living things, cancer develops out of the normal cells within the body. Generally, the normal cells multiply when needed by the body and die when the body does not need them. When the growth of the cells in the body is out of control and cells divide too quickly, cancer appears to occur. Nonetheless, cancer also appears to happen when cells in the body forget how to die.
Causes of Cancer:
There are various kinds of cancer because the disease can develop in nearly every tissue or organ like skin, bones, colon, lung, nerve tissues, or breast. As a result of the different kinds of this disease, cancer has many causes including obesity, excessive exposure to sunlight, drinking excess alcohol, viruses, radiation, genetic problems, and environmental toxins. Despite of this, the cause of several cancers is still unknown even though the most common cause of deaths related to cancer is lung cancer (Dugdale & Zieve, 2010).
The symptoms of this disease are basically dependent on the location and type of cancer while certain types of cancers may not exhibit any symptoms at all. For instance, chest pain, shortness of breath, and coughing are symptoms of lung cancer while colon cancer normally causes constipation, diarrhea, and blood in the stool. Moreover, in some cancers like pancreatic cancer, the symptoms do not usually start until the disease has developed to an advanced stage. Some of the most common symptoms with many types of cancers include fatigue, chills, malaise, fever, loss of appetite, weight loss, and night sweats.
Diagnosis and Staging of Cancer:
While the signs of cancer vary depending on the location and type of tumor, the most common tests of the disease include biopsy of the tumor, complete blood count, bone marrow biopsy, blood tests, CT scan, MRI scan, and chest x-ray. Notably, most cancers are diagnosed by biopsy, which may be a simple process or serious operation based on the location of the tumor. In addition, many patients with the disease undergo CT scans in order to determine the actual size and location of the tumor or tumors.
During the diagnosis of cancer, it's important for the patient to discuss the size, type, and location of the cancer with the doctor since a cancer diagnosis is usually difficult to cope with. In this process, the patient can also ask about the treatment options for the disease together with their risks and benefits. Due to the coping difficulty associated with a cancer diagnosis, the patient could consider having someone with him/her to help him/her get through the diagnosis. This is because the person could help in asking questions when the patient has troubles doing so after hearing about his/her diagnosis.
Staging is described as the process of finding out how much cancer is present in a person's body and its location. Therefore, cancer staging is the process with which the doctor learns the current stage of an individual's cancer. Consequently, doctors use information from staging to plan the treatment process and to assist a patient's outlook or prognosis. In most cases, cancers with similar stage have the tendency to have the same outlooks and are normally treated in similar ways. Cancer staging primarily describes the severity of an individual's cancer depending on the extent of the primary or original tumor and whether the disease has spread in the body.
In addition to being used to plan the suitable treatment and estimating a patient's prognosis, cancer staging is important in identifying the clinical trials that could be appropriate for a specific person. This process assists healthcare providers and researchers to exchange information regarding patients and provide a common terminology for assessing the outcomes of medical trials and compare the results of various trials. As staging is based on the knowledge of the progression of the disease, it comprises of several common elements such as the site of the primary tumor, tumor size and number of tumors, the existence of metastasis, lymph node involvement, and cell type and tumor grade ("Cancer Staging," 2010). The most commonly used staging systems is TNM system, which is based on the extent of the tumor, spread to the lymph nodes, and the existence of distant metastasis. In this system, a number is added to every letter to show the extent or size of the primary tumor and the extent of the spread of the cancer. Even though the type of cancer determines the type of tests used for staging, the most common tests include physical exams, laboratory tests, imaging studies, surgical reports, and pathology tests.
Complications of Cancer:
For cancer patients, the complications associated with the disease can be inconvenient, painful, life-changing, and even fatal. These complications vary depending on the health of the patient and the stage of the tumor. As a result of the various complications, most of the adjuvant therapies and alternative medications focus on lessening complications, especially on minimizing the physical and emotional distress that they cause. Notably, these complications can be classified into three major categories i.e. physical, mental and emotional, and metastasis complications.
Under physical complications, the most common distress caused by the disease is pain that originates from the growth and spread of the tumor into the surrounding tissues and the pressure it exerts on a surrounding nerve. As a physical complication of cancer, pain is classified into three major categories i.e. somatic pain, visceral pain, and neuropathic pain. While visceral pain is caused by damages to an organ tissue, somatic pain affects a certain area of the skin, bone, or muscle and neuropathic pain originates from injury to the central nervous system ("Cancer Complications," n.d.). The other physical complications of cancer include fever, hypercalcemia, lymphedema, nausea and vomiting, malignant pleural effusion, sexual issues, and pruritus. While some of these complications improve upon treatment, others may need extra medication or therapy.
Mental and emotional complications of cancer occur in reactions to the diagnosis and treatment of the disease. Generally, cancer patients are at increased risks of developing mood disorders like anxiety and major depression. Some patients develop mood disorders that require professional treatment when the feelings interfere with the patient's ability to lead a productive life and undergo treatment.
On the other hand, metastasis is one of the most dangerous complications of cancer since it's the spread of the cancerous cells through the lymphatic system or blood from one part of the body to another. The danger associated with this complication is evident in the fact that it causes most cancer-related deaths because of its impact on vital organs like bones, lungs, brain, and liver. This complication is increasingly difficult to treat and significantly decreases the probability of the patient to recover completely.
Side Effects of Cancer Treatment:
Cancer is usually treated through various methods that are aimed at killing the cancerous cells while killing as less healthy cells as possible. The most common treatment methods include radiation, hormone-blocking medications, chemotherapy, and surgery. Surgery is a treatment method used to eliminate cancer cells that are packed together while also removing the surrounding normal cells to determine if the cancer has spread. On the other hand, radiation is used for treating localized cancers and takes various forms that are geared towards killing cancer cells. Some of the most common forms of radiation therapy include aiming a beam of radiation onto the skin around the cancer, injection of radioactive particles that stick to cancerous cells and not normal cells, and placement of small radioactive particles into an organ surrounding the cancer ("Cancer," n.d.). Chemotherapy is a treatment method that uses anti-cancer medications and its often used when the disease has spread throughout various parts of the body.
Even though these treatment methods may cure cancer, some of them like chemotherapy and radiation generate side effects that can considerably impact a patient's quality of life. The short-term side effects associated with radiation therapy are throat pain, hoarseness, and irritated skin while long-term side effects include damage to jawbones and salivary glands. On the other hand, chemotherapy has various undesirable side effects such as nausea, weakening of the immune system, and hair loss. Since most of these side effects associated with chemotherapy are short-term, they usually disappear after the individual completes treatment.
Methods for Lessening Physical and Psychological Effects of Cancer:
The probability of a cancer patient to enjoy a better quality of life depends on his/her ability to deal with the physical and psychological effects of the disease. However, the patient's ability to cope with the disease through various methods is largely affected by the severity of the cancer. There are various methods that can be used to…