Health tips: causes of cancer, types and treatment

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) Cancer is a generic term for a large group of diseases that can affect any part of the body. Other terms used are malignant tumors and neoplasms. A descriptive feature of cancer is the rapid increment of abnormal cells that grow beyond their usual boundaries, and which can then invade adjoining parts of the body and extend to other organs; the latter process is referred to as metastasis. Metastases are the primary cause of death from cancer.

Cancer describes the disease that results when cellular changes lead to the uncontrolled growth and division of cells.

Some types of cancer cause quick cell growth, while others cause cells to grow and divide at a slower rate.

Certain types of cancer lead to visible growths termed tumors, while others, such as leukemia, do not.

Almost all of the body’s cells have unique functions and fixed lifespans. While it may sound bad, cell death is part of a natural and beneficial process called apoptosis.

A cell gets instructions to die so that the body can restore it with a newer cell that functions well. Cancerous cells do not have the components that commands them to stop dividing and to die.

As a result, they build up in the body, using oxygen and nutrients that would usually replenish other cells. Cancerous cells are able to form tumors, impair the immune system and cause other changes that stops the body from functioning regularly.

Cancerous cells may be seen in one area, then extend via the lymph nodes. These are groups of immune cells located all over the body.

Causes of cancer

There are so many causes of cancer, and some can be avoided.

  • Smoking
  • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • Excess body weight
  • Physical inactivity
  • Poor nutrition

Other causes of cancer are not avoidable. Presently, the most significant unavoidable risk factor is age. According to the American Cancer Society, doctors in the U.S. diagnose 87 Source of cancer cases in people aged 50 years or older.

Is cancer hereditary?

Genetic factors can also result in the development of cancer.

A person’s genetic code tells their cells when to divide and expire. Changes in the genes can lead to faulty instructions, and cancer can emanate.

Genes also affect the cells’ production of proteins, and proteins carry most of the instructions for cellular growth and division.

Some genes change proteins that would usually rebuild damaged cells. This can result in cancer. If a parent has these genes, they may pass on the altered instructions to their children.

Some genetic changes come up after birth, and factors such as smoking and sun exposure can increase the risk.

Other changes that can lead to cancer take place in the chemical signals that determine how the body deploys, or “expresses” specific genes.

Finally, a person can inherit a predisposition for a type of cancer. A doctor may term this as having hereditary cancer syndrome. Inherited genetic mutations significantly affect the development of 5–10 percentTrusted Source of cancer cases.

Innovative research has supported the development of new medications and treatment strategies.

Doctors usually prescribe treatments based on the type of cancer, its stage at diagnosis, and the person’s overall health.

Below are some examples of approaches to cancer treatment.

Chemotherapy

Aims to kill cancerous cells with treatment aimed at rapidly dividing cells. The drugs can also help shrink tumors, but the side effects can be serious.

Hormone therapy involves taking drugs that change how certain hormones function 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 drugs and other treatments to enhance 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

This is a newer, developing approach. It involves using genetic testing to decide the right 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

This approach uses high-dose radiation to terminate cancerous cells. Also, a doctor may suggest using radiation to shrink a tumor before surgery or limit tumor-related symptoms.

Stem cell transplant

This method 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 minimize or prevent the disease’s spread.

Targeted therapies perform functions within cancerous cells to stop them from increasing. They can also boost the immune system. Two examples of these therapies are small-molecule drugs and monoclonal antibodies.

Doctors will often recommend more than one type of medication to maximize effectiveness.

Annually, more than 40,000 people in the country receive a diagnosis of one of the following types of cancer:

  • bladder
  • colon and rectal
  • endometrial
  • kidney
  • leukemia
  • liver
  • melanoma
  • non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • pancreatic
  • thyroid

When a person is diagnosed with cancer, the outlook will depend on whether the disease has spread and on its type, severity, and location.

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