We all know cancer is a deadly disease, in fact, one out of every two men and one out of every three women will be diagnosed with this fatal disease, as shown by medical studies. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), cancer will replace cardiovascular disease as the first leading cause of death.
So we have heard all the hype, but very few of us actually know about cancer. What is it?
Cancer is the deadly disease in which abnormal cells divide uncontrollably and potentially spread to other parts of the body. These cells are called cancerous cells or tumor cells. Cancerous cells are those cells which have lost the ability to respond to the body’s control mechanism. These cells persist and escape the control mechanism, and they multiply and can spread to other tissues.
When these cells form a cluster or mass tissue, it is termed as a tumor which is further classified as benign and malignant.
Cancer is an ancient disease and can be traced back to as far as the 5th century BC. The word cancer means ‘crab’ in Latin, presumably because the pain of the disease is very much similar to being pinched by a crab.
These are a few of the common types of cancers, and they mainly affecting the following parts :
Treatment and Diagnosis of Cancer
Oncology is referred to as the branch of medicine dealing with the diagnosis of cancer. The modern techniques for treatment involve killing or destroying cancerous cells without causing damage to nearby healthy cells.
The three main primary treatments involve;
1) Chemotherapy –
This is one of the most popular methods of treatment. It involves the use of strong drugs to aid in the restriction of growth and multiplication of cancerous cells and ultimately destroying them. The drugs and dosage provided depend on several factors like age, stage and the type of cancer.
However, the drugs used are highly powerful and may even cause unwanted damage to healthy cells, with the addition of side effects particularly infertility, hair loss, anemia, and kidney problems.
2) Surgery –
This is one of the oldest treatment methods and remains relevant to this date. Cancer surgery is the process of removal of whole or part of the tumor and surrounding tissue. Surgery is generally done to perform a biopsy, local treatment or to reduce the risk of cancer.
Surgery is not an option if cancer has spread throughout your body, instead, chemotherapy or radio treatment is preferred.
As expected, it is common to have pain, fatigue, appetite loss and swelling around the site of surgery.
3) Radiation therapy –
This is one of the more advanced methods of treatment and has been adopted by ever since the discovery of X- rays in 1895. This technique uses X-rays to destroy cancerous cells in the treated area by damaging the DNA of these cells.
The side effects of undergoing radiation therapy are skin problems like itching blistering, and other problems like fatigue, hair loss, etc.
15 Symptoms and Signs of Cancer
It is important to know that anybody can develop cancer even though it is prevalent in older people and we must stay alert and observant to our bodies and be wary of any abnormal changes we experience.
The important things we must keep in mind are;
– Identifying and acknowledging the disease helps and increases chances of successful treatment
– Do not put off unusual changes in your body as a result of aging or other health conditions
Signs and symptoms prove to be helpful and act as indicators in identifying the part affected and promote early treatment.
So the question arises,
What are the symptoms and signs of cancer?
Having any one of these signs or symptoms does not necessarily mean you have cancer, but if these conditions persist for a long period, say, many weeks or months, you should definitely consult a doctor.
1. Sores that do not heal
Skin tissues get repaired very quickly and if a spot, wart or sore appears and doesn’t heal, you should seek medical attention.
Sores in the mouth could be an implication of oral cancer and are common in people who chew tobacco, smoke and drink alcohol.
Sores in the genital areas including the vagina and penis might be early signs and are advised to be dealt with immediately.
2. A persistent cough or blood in the saliva
These are really symptoms of other diseases namely bronchitis or sinusitis but could be implications of head, neck or lung cancer.
If you have hoarse coughing accompanied with blood in your mucus, you should go see a doctor.
3. Unusual lumps on your body
In women, this is a change mostly found on breasts, accompanied by redness, change in size, pain, or change in shape. Nipple changes such as nipple discharge of blood or other fluids in women who are not pregnant or breastfeeding should be thoroughly reported and investigated by doctors.
In men, there occurs an uncomfortable lump accompanied by enlargement of the testicles. Other conditions such as enlarged veins or infections must also be checked.
Overall, any unusual lumps or swelling on any part of the body should not be ignored and taken seriously and requires medical attention.
4. A dramatic change in bowel habits
The upsetting of stomach or frequent bowel motions could be caused by food poisoning or after a spicy meal. But a dramatic change in your bowel habits altogether, whether that means continuous diarrhea, loose motion or constipation is something to be cautious about and requires evaluation and dietary changes if necessary.
5. Urinary problems
If there exists a problem in urinating, for instance, frequent urination, small amounts of urine or slow urine flow,
it has to be reported to the doctor.
If there is difficulty urinating or blood present in urine, it could be due to other problems and can be cured easily, but it could mean that your bladder or kidney is affected.
6. Hoarseness in speech
A croaky voice or feeling hoarse which is not due to a cold or other respiratory illness that lasts more than four weeks must be evaluated.
It is most commonly caused by infections or simple allergy or could be the first signs of throat cancers.
7. Difficulty in swallowing and indigestion
Many medical problems cause difficulty in swallowing especially in older people, but if it doesn’t go away, it could be linked to cancer in the esophagus.
If you experience heartburn and indigestion frequently and is painful, it could be a similar problem.
8. Unusual vaginal bleeding
Bleeding of the uterus between periods or after sex or menopause needs to be carefully evaluated because it is an early sign of cancer of the uterus.
An endometrial biopsy is required for safety, which involves taking a small sample from inside the uterus for testing.
9. Heavy night sweats, weight loss or fever
Night sweats are usually a side effect of medication or due to infection. But experiencing stressful and drenching sweats are potentially a red flag.
Alarming weight losses and high fevers must be reported correctly to the doctor.
10. Unexpected anemia
The condition where the number of red blood cells does decreases beyond the expected count is called anemia.
If there is blood loss occurring without any obvious reason, it ought to be investigated as this leads to iron-deficiency, which could cause bowel cancer.
Anemia can be found out by X-ray studies or endoscopy of intestinal tracts.
It is common to feel breathless sometimes, but if this becomes a common experience, get it checked immediately.
12. Appearance change in a mole
Most moles on our body go unnoticed or ignored throughout our lives. But keep an eye out for new moles, moles that change color, enlarging moles or the ones bleeding out. These could be cancerous and are risky.
Treating and removing moles is easy, and it can be examined for skin cancer.
13. Severe itching in genital areas
Cancerous skin can cause serious itching in genital or anal areas and causes the skin to change color.
Most itching is caused by other skin problems and infections, but if the medication for these conditions does not seem to work and itching persists, have your doctor examine the area.
14. Back pain, pelvic pain and bloating of the stomach
One of the symptoms of ovarian cancer are sudden muscle strains or cramps but are also the result of lack of proper nutrition.
Due to this reason, it is particularly hard to detect it, and usually gets detected in the later dangerous stages.
It is quite common and normal for women to experience bloating once in a while, but frequent bloating needs to be addressed.
15. Splitting headaches
Severe headaches can be the result of a number of reasons specifically migraines, stress or other illnesses.
But if you experience a headache like no other, and medication and rest provides no aid, then visit a doctor promptly.
It is estimated that approximately 7.6 million people still die of cancer illness every year.
Even with the rapid advancements in technology and medicine, the black cloud of this deadly disease remains as menacing as ever.