The scientific advancements over the past few centuries have enabled the human race to avoid certain fatal and dreaded diseases. However, diseases seem to have their own minds and are ever evolving, presenting the necessity to stay up-to-date with the medical conditions of the body. One of the new and revelatory diseases that have made its mark in the world of medicine and diseases is cancer. Cancer refers to the unregulated growth of abnormal body cells. These cells, also known as cancerous cells, grow rapidly and without control (Yount, 1999). Normally, body cells undergo a period of division or multiplication, growth and ultimately death. However, cancerous cells do not undergo the same process. They multiply and grow rapidly and fail to undergo the last stage of death, also known as apoptosis (Panno, 2009). Apoptosis refers to regulated cell death. Failure to die means the cells remain within the body longer than the body had “planned”. The cancerous cells, therefore, take up the nutrients and oxygen meant for other cells, in the process depriving those cells of essential requirements. The result is the onslaught of complications, which if not nipped in the bud, may subsequently result in the demise of the victim. This essay discusses cancer as a disease, the effects on the body of the patient, its signs and symptoms and the possible measures taken to control it.
According to the results of a survey released in 2008, cancer claimed the lives of more than 7.6 million people in the world in 2007 (Panno, 2009). Research has also demonstrated that the prevalence and risk of suffering from cancer shoots up tremendously with an increase in age (Master, 2003). Older people are more likely to suffer from cancer, even though there are certain types of cancer that are more prevalent in children. According to a survey conducted in the United Kingdom, 1.3 million people above the age of sixty-five are suffering from various types of cancer. The figure will expectedly increase to 4.1 million people in the next two decades.
Cancer usually starts with a small group of cells growing rapidly and out of control. These cancerous cells invade and colonize other neighboring normal body cells, tissues and organs, denying them crucial nutrients. Deprivation of nutrients has a negative consequence to these cells. The resultant effect is the cells tissues and organs do not perform their functions normally. When certain cells and tissues do not function normally, the body exhibits this as a disease through various symptoms, including fever and fatigue (Master, 2003). The tissues, cells and organs affected by the malignant cells (cancerous cells) determine the cancer patient is suffering from (Panno, 2009). Any organ of the body is a potential target for cancerous cells. There are over one hundred discovered and documented types of cancer. The various types of cancer include lung cancer, throat cancer, liver cancer, kidney cancer, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and brain cancer just to name a few (Panno, 2009). In the United States, lung cancer claims more lives than any other cancer. Among men, the three most common types of cancer are colon cancer, lung cancer, and prostate cancer. The three types of cancer that women in the United States suffer from are lung cancer, breast cancer, and cancer of the colon (Panno, 2009). Studies have also indicated that certain types of cancer are highly prevalent in some parts of the world. For example, stomach cancer is rare in the United States (Yount, 1999). However, in the Asian countries, Japan to be precise, the prevalence of stomach cancer is quite high. This trend has been associated with diet. An oncologist is a specialist in the research, study, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of cancer.
The causes of most types of cancer are enigmatic. Nevertheless, certain trends and habits have been shown to increase the risk of suffering from cancer. Research has shown that most patients of cancer inherited it, to mean the disease is inheritable (Yount, 1999). Interference of genetic make-up, or mutation, causes the rise of cancerous cells. Mutagens are substances responsible for mutation. Carcinogen is the term used to describe such mutagens that cause cancer. These mutated genes pass on to the offspring, in the process setting off an unfamiliar growth of cells. These “alien” cells gradually develop into cancerous cells. Other chemicals, such as aflatoxin, which trigger mutation of genes, also cause cancer (Panno, 2009). Poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle (inactive lifestyle devoid of exercise regimes) may cause cancer too. Research has demonstrated that soft drinks, when taken frequently and in significant amounts pose the subject to high risk of suffering from prostate cancer (Panno, 2009). This is especially true for men. Industrially processed and refined foods also pose a high risk of suffering from cancer. These types of food are devoid of anti-oxidants, which go a long way in preventing the development of malignant cells. Other conditions and habits that predispose individuals to the risk of suffering from cancer include infections (viruses), radiations (excessive exposure to sunlight), obesity, excessive consumption of alcohol, and cigarette smoking (Yount, 1999). Radiations are the common cause of skin cancer.
There are various ways of detecting cancer, even though in most cases, it is not obvious. The signs and symptoms of cancer differ. This is because cancer affects many different organs and exhibits itself in varying ways according to the organ affected. For instance, colon cancer is commonly associated with diarrhea, blood in the stool and constipation. On the other hand, lung cancer is associated with coughing, chest pains and short breath (Panno, 2009). Some of the general symptoms that can point to cancer infection include fatigue, weight loss, fever and loss of appetite. In some types of cancer, there are no symptoms at all. In others, the symptoms do not become apparent until the disease has progressed and advanced to a higher stage, for example, pancreatic cancer (Master, 2003). Detection of cancer involves running of various tests. These tests are to ascertain whether there are cancerous cells in the body. These tests include Computed Tomography (CT) scans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans, liver function tests, X-rays, screening and blood tests (in search of certain chemicals). Mammography is the screening of the breast in order to identify cancerous cells, while colonoscopy is the screening of the colon for the same purpose. However, the most commonly used method for cancer detection is conducting a biopsy (Master, 2003). This involves obtaining a sample of the suspected cancerous cells and subjecting them through a series of tests, including viewing under a microscope. Laboratory technicians obtain the cancerous cells from the body through a method called Fine Needle Aspiration (FNA), a process that involves injecting a needle into the body and retrieving the cells from a part of the body.
Once detected, the metastasis (spread) of cancer is checked, and even treatment administered depending on the stage of the disease. The chances of survival of a patient depend on the part of the body affected by cancer and the extent/stage of the disease (Master, 2003). Treatment of cancer involves various processes, including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy and surgery among others. Localized cancer (cancer that has not metastasized) can heal through therapy. Surgical excision of the affected parts of the body prevent the cancerous cells from spreading to the rest of the body as cancer cells can spread through the blood or the lymphatic system. Surgical excision is especially common in breast cancer, colon cancer and lung cancer (Master, 2003). Where surgery is not applicable or preferable, especially, if the disease is in the advanced stages, chemotherapy or radiation is applied. Sometimes, all the three procedures apply in order to cure an ailing patient. Chemotherapy and radiation treats cancer of lymph glands, also called lymphoma (Panno, 2009). Chemotherapy is a procedure that uses the understanding of the process of division and multiplication of cancerous cells. In this procedure, chemicals arrest the multiplication of the cells by interfering with their protein and DNA content. It is then easier to kill the cells after that. These treatment targets all rapidly dividing cell, not just malignant cells (Master, 2003). The procedure applies intermittently to give the body time to recover from its side effects. The side effects include fatigue, loss of hair, nausea and vomiting. It may also result to a weakened immune system. Radiation involves more or less the same process, only that in radiation therapy, gamma radiation and other types of radiation kill the malignant cells. It takes only a few minutes and is painless. However, it has side effects too, similar to the ones stated above. Immunotherapy involves stimulation of the body’s immune system to fight off the malignant cells.
Cancer is a dreadful disease, and the sound of its name alone sends chills down the spines of many people. However, aside from the fatality associated with it, it is a curable disease and patients need to keep that in mind (Yount, 1999). Patients should ensure they eat a well balanced diet, get enough rest and adhere to their medication. For those suspecting that they are suffering from cancer, they should seek medical tests as soon as possible as cancer is easier to cure in the early stages. Friends and family can contribute to the progress of their patient by encouraging and being supportive towards them.