If someone asked you to define cancer, could you do it? We all have heard the word “cancer” many times, however very few people understand the disease and how it develops.
Cancer is term that encompasses a complex group of more than 100 different types of cancerous diseases. Cancer can affect just about every organ in the human body. Many people are surprised to learn that cancer can affect parts of the body like eyes and the heart.
Each type of cancer is unique with its own causes, symptoms, and methods of treatment. Like with all groups of disease, some types of cancer are more common than others.
How Does Cancer Develop?
The organs in our body are made up of cells. Cells divide and multiply as the body needs them. When these cells continue multiplying when the body doesn’t need them, the result is a mass or growth, also called a tumor.
These growths are considered either benign or malignant. Benign is considered non-cancerous and malignant is cancerous. Benign tumors rarely are life threatening and do not spread to other parts of the body. They can often be removed.
Malignant tumors, however, often invade nearby tissue and organs, spreading the disease.
How Does Cancer Spread to Other Parts of the Body?
The cells within malignant tumors have the ability to invade neighboring tissues and organs, thus spreading the disease. It is also possible for cancerous cells to break free from the tumor site and enter the bloodstream, spreading the disease to other organs. This process of spreading is called metastasis.
When cancer has metastasized and has affected other areas of the body, the disease is still referred to the organ of origination. For example, if cervical cancer spreads to the lungs, it is still called cervical cancer, not lung cancer.
Although most cancers develop and spread this way — via an organ – blood cancer like leukemia do not. They affect the blood and the organs that form blood and then invade nearby tissues.
Symptoms of cancer vary based on the type of cancer. As cancer progresses to an advanced stage, common symptoms can include weight loss, fever, and fatigue. These are very non-specific symptoms that are more likely related to other less serious illnesses than cancer.
A broad spectrum of non-specific cancer symptoms may include:
- Persistent Fatigue: Fatigue is one of the most commonly experienced cancer symptoms. It is usually more common when the cancer is advanced, but still occurs in the early stages of some cancers. Anemia is commonly the culprit — a condition that is associated with many types of cancer, especially types affecting the bowel. Fatigue is a symptom of both malignant and non-malignant conditions and should be evaluated by a physician.
- Unintentional Weight Loss: While it may be a welcome surprise to lose weight without trying, it can be a red flag for many illnesses, including cancer. Losing 10 pounds or more unintentionally definitely warrants a visit to the doctor. This type of weight loss can occur with or without loss of appetite. Remember, weight loss can be a symptom of cancer, but is also a symptom of many other illnesses, too.
- Pain Typically, pain is not an early symptom of cancer, except in some cancer types like those that spread to the bone. Pain generally occurs when cancer spreads and begins to affect other organs and nerves.
Lower pack pain is cancer symptom that is associated with ovarian cancer and colon cancer. Shoulder pain can also be a symptom of lung cancer. Pain in the form of headaches can be associated with brain tumors (malignant and benign).
Stomach pains can be related to types of cancer, like stomach cancer, pancreatic cancer, and many others. Stomach pain can be a very vague symptom because so many illnesses can cause stomach pain.
- Fever: A fever is a very non-specific symptom of many mild to severe conditions, including cancer. In relation to cancer, a fever that is persistent or one that comes and goes frequently can signal stress on the immune system. Fevers are commonly associated with types of cancer that affects the blood, like leukemia and lymphoma, but are also common in people whose cancer has spread.
- Bowel Changes: If you experience constipation, diarrhea, blood in the stools, gas, thinner stools, or just a general overall change in bowel habits, see your doctor. These symptoms are most commonly associated with colon cancer, but are also related to other cancer types.
- Chronic Cough: A persistent, new cough or a cough that won’t go away or becomes worse needs to be evaluated by a doctor. Blood and/or mucus may accompany the cough and can be caused many conditions. In relation to cancer, a chronic cough with blood or mucus can be symptom of lung cancer.
Keep in mind that these are very general, vague symptoms of cancer. If you have one or two of these symptoms, it is not a red flag for cancer but more an indication to your doctor to run certain medical tests. The symptoms listed above are experienced by most people with cancer at various stages of their disease, but are also linked to many other non-cancerous conditions. For more specific cancer symptoms and further information about several types of cancer check the publications on our website or contact the Bahrain Cancer Society at 00973 17233080 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Treatment of Cancer
There are four standard methods of treatment for cancer: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy/biologic therapy. When initially diagnosed with cancer, a cancer specialist (called an oncologist) will provide the patient with cancer treatment options. He or she will recommend the best treatment plan based on the type of cancer, how far it has spread, and other important factors like age and general health.
Ultimately, it is the patient who makes the treatment decisions based on doctor’s recommendations, possible second opinions, and other information gathered from qualified professionals.