Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells anywhere in a body of a person. These abnormal cells are termed cancer cells, malignant cells, or tumor cells. These cells can infiltrate normal body tissues. Many cancer and the abnormal cells that comprises the cancer tissue are further identified by the name of the tissue that the abnormal cells originated from (for example, breast cancer, lung cancer, colorectal cancer).
What are cancer symptoms and signs?
Symptoms and signs of cancer depend on the type of cancer, where it is located, and/or where the cancer cells have spread in the body. For example, breast cancer may present as a lump in the breast or as nipple discharge while metastatic breast cancer may present with symptoms of pain (if spread to bones), extreme fatigue (lungs), or seizures (brain). A few patients show no signs or symptoms until the cancer reaches further stages.
The American Cancer Society describes seven warning signs and/or symptoms that cancer may be present, and which should prompt a person to seek medical attention. The word CAUTION can help you remember these.
- Change in bowel or bladder habits
- A sore throat that does not heal
- Unusual bleeding or discharge
- Thickening or lump in the breast, testicles, or elsewhere in body
- Indigestion (usually chronic) or difficulty swallowing
- Obvious change in the size, color, shape, or thickness of a wart( small growth with a rough texture that can appear anywhere on the body) or mole
- Nagging cough or hoarseness
Other symptoms or signs may also alert you or your doctor to the possibility of you having some form of cancer. These include the following:
- Unexplained loss of appetite or loss of weight of the patient
- New type of pain in the bones or other parts of the body that may be steadily worsening, or come and go, but is unlike previous pains one has had before
- Persistent fatigue, nausea, or vomiting
- Unexplained low-grade fevers may be either persistent or come and go
- Recurring infections which may not clear with usual treatment of the patient
Anyone with these signs and symptoms should consult their doctor on routine basis; these symptoms may also arise from noncancerous conditions.
TNM staging system:
The TNM staging system classifies cancers according to:
- Tumor (T): Primary tumor size and/or extent
- Nodes (N): Spread of cancer to lymph nodes in the regional area of the primary tumor region
- Metastasis (M): Spread of cancer to distant sites away from the primary tumor region
Some cancers, of brain, spinal cord, bone marrow (lymphoma), blood (leukemia), and female reproductive system, do not receive a TNM classification. Instead, these cancers are classified according to a different stages.
What Are The Stages of Cancer?
The TNM classification of a cancer usually correlates to one of the following five stages.
- Stage 0: This stage refers to cancer that is “in situ,” meaning that cancerous cells are confined to their site of origin. This type of cancer has not spread till now and is not invading other tissues.
- Stage I – Stage III: These stages of cancer correspond to larger tumors and/or greater extent of disease. Cancers in these stages may have spread beyond the site of origin to invade regional lymph nodes, tissues, or organs of the body.
- Stage IV: This type of cancer has spread to distant lymph nodes, tissues, or organs in the body of the patient far away from the site of origin.
Diagnosis of Cancer
Various tests may be performed in order to confirm a cancer diagnosis. Positron Emission Tomography and Computed Tomography (PET-CT) Scans and other similar tests can highlight “hot spots” of cancer cells with high metabolic rates.
The most common test and procedures used to diagnose cancer include:
- Pap Test
- Tumor Marker Test
- Bone Scan
- Tissue Biopsy
- PET-CT Scan
Doctors usually prescribe treatments based on the type of cancer, its stage at diagnosis, and the person’s overall health.
- Chemotherapy aims to kill cancerous cells with medications that target rapidly dividing cells. The drugs can also help shrink tumors, but the side effects can be severe.
- Hormone therapy involves taking medications that change how certain hormones work or interfere with the body’s ability to produce them. When hormones play a significant role, as with prostate and breast cancers, this is a common approach.
- Immunotherapy uses medications and other treatments to boost the immune system and encourage it to fight cancerous cells. Two examples of these treatments are checkpoint inhibitors and adoptive cell transfer.
- Precision medicine, or personalized medicine, is a newer, developing approach. It involves using genetic testing to determine the best treatments for a person’s particular presentation of cancer. Researchers have yet to show that it can effectively treat all types of cancer, however.
- Radiation therapy uses high-dose radiation to kill cancerous cells. Also, a doctor may recommend using radiation to shrink a tumor before surgery or reduce tumor-related symptoms.
- Stem cell transplant can be especially beneficial for people with blood-related cancers, such as leukemia or lymphoma. It involves removing cells, such as red or white blood cells, that chemotherapy or radiation has destroyed. Lab technicians then strengthen the cells and put them back into the body.
- Surgery is often a part of a treatment plan when a person has a cancerous tumor. Also, a surgeon may remove lymph nodes to reduce or prevent the disease’s spread.
- Targeted therapies perform functions within cancerous cells to prevent them from multiplying. They can also boost the immune system. Two examples of these therapies are small-molecule drugs and monoclonal antibodies.
Doctors will often employ more than one type of treatment to maximize effectiveness.
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