As much as cough and cold are household problems, cancer has slowly started to become such a common ailment too. Cancer is among the leading causes of death worldwide. In 2012, there were 14.1 million new cases and 8.2 million cancer-related deaths worldwide. Despite of these increasing numbers, many of us still remain unknown of what is it actually?
WHAT IS CANCER?
Cancer is when abnormal cells divide in an uncontrolled way. These cancer cells have the potential to invade the entire system of the body. When there are changes in genes leading to the multiplication of one or multiple cells, cancer starts. This growth may also lead to tumour. But tumours are different than cancer. Tumour doesn’t spread in different parts of the body, whereas cancer potentially spreads to multiple parts in the body.
Healthy cells have a specific lifecycle, getting reproduced and dying off in a specific way determined by the cell. New cells take the place of these old and damaged cells. Cancer cells tend to disrupt this process and leads to abnormal growth in cell.
TYPES OF CANCER
There are over 200 types of cancers which affect humans. There is an entire A-Z of the types of cancers. Cancers are named after the area from where they begin the body. For example, a cancer that begins from the intestine and spreads to the liver is an intestinal cancer.
However, there are several general terms used for clinical types of cancers. These are-
- Leukaemia is a cancer of bone marrow which creates the blood cells.
- Sarcoma is a cancer of connective tissues such as bones, muscles, blood vessels and cartilage.
- Carcinoma is a cancer that starts in the skin or tissues that line other organs.
- Lymphoma or Myeloma are cancers of the immune system.
These are just a few terms given to the types of cancer. However there are multiple types of cancers like blood cancer, bladder cancer, breast cancer, brain tumour, anal cancer, bone cancer, cervical cancers, eye cancer, gall bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, lung cancer, oral cancer, ovarian cancer, rectal cancer, salivary gland cancer, urethral cancer and many more.
CAUSES OF CANCER
DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the hereditary material in humans and almost all other organisms. DNA is present within body cells. When there are changes or mutations to the DNA within the cells, cancer is caused. The DNA constitutes of multiple individual genes which contains a set of instructions to perform as well as how to grow and divide. Errors in these instructions disrupt the regular functioning of the cell and may lead for it to become cancerous.
These mutations or changes in the genes causes-
- Rapid Growth - The mutation can tell a cell to grow and divide more rapidly which creates many new cells with same mutation
- Failure in Controlled Growth - A normal cell knows when to stop growing so that the body has the right number of each cell. However, cancer cells lose this tendency to grow and cannot tell when to stop growing.
- Make Errors When Repairing DNA Errors - DNA repair genes and look for errors in DNA. A mutation in a DNA repair can mean that such errors are not corrected leading for them to become cancerous.
There are other types of mutations as well which are found in cells. But these happen to be the most common ones. Many other types of gene mutations become a cause for the cells to become cancerous.
These gene mutations are primarily caused due to two reasons-
- You inherit some type of gene mutations that is you are born with a few. You inherit them from your parents. But these form a small percentage of cancers.
- Most of the gene mutations are not inherited and you acquire them after your birth.
A number of forces can cause gene mutations, such as smoking, radiation, viruses, cancer-causing chemicals (carcinogens), obesity, hormones, chronic inflammation and a lack of exercise. These environmental and lifestyle factors account for almost 95 % of cancers in the society. The remaining 5 – 10 % are genetically inherited. Common lifestyle factors include consumption of tobacco, diet and obesity, stress, radiation, infections, pollution and lack of physical activity.
It is generally very difficult to precisely tell the cause of a cancer as it can also be a combination of multiple factors. For example, a person who heavily consumes tobacco has consumed lung cancer. Primary cause looks like the consumption of lung cancer, but it can also be exposure to the dense pollution around.
The gene mutation one is born with and the ones he/she acquires through his/her lifestyle work together for the cancer to occur. The number of mutations causing a cancer varies from one cancer type to another.
SYMPTOMS OF CANCER
Signs and symptoms developed due to cancer vary according to which part of the body is affected by cancer. Many a times, when cancer begins, it develops no symptoms. They only develop when the mass grows. It is also found out in many cases that it is common for people to be diagnosed with cancer to have been treated for other diseases which were hypothesized to be causing their symptoms.
Some general signs or symptoms, many a times not only specific to cancer include-
- Changes in skin including yellowing, darkening or redness of the skin, sores that won't heal, or changes to existing moles
- Lump or area of thickening that can be felt under the skin
- Changes in weight, including unintended loss or gain
- Changes in bowel or bladder habits
- Persistent cough or trouble breathing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Persistent indigestion or discomfort after eating
- Persistent, unexplained muscle or joint pain
- Persistent, unexplained fevers or night sweats
- Unexplained bleeding or bruising
It is best to consult a doctor in case of any of these symptoms. Even if you have a doubt about any change occurring in your body which might not be listed above, the wisest things would be to consult and discuss with your doctor to avoid any unnecessary stress or delay in treatment.
While a doctor is the best person to tell your specific risk factors that can lead to cancer, majority of cancers occurs where in there are no such known risk factors.
Since cancer can be both due to inherited as well as environmental factors so there are no such specific ways to prevent factors. But there are certainly ways identified to avoid its risks. At the same time, since 70 – 90 % of cancers are caused to the environmental factors then certainly a controlled change in one’s lifestyle can avoid cancer.
- Have a healthy diet. There is nothing better than keeping the system from the inside working smoothly and the major role is played by what you consume.
- Maintain a healthy weight. With all the social gatherings that you have to be a part of, it is very important to maintain a healthy weight by various measures.
- Exercise regularly. Ode to the advanced innovations, there are multiple ways to give a workout to your body. As much as time one makes for other things in life, it is most important to take out few moments and devote them to moving that body a little.
- Avoid excessive sun exposure. Trying to be in the shade, applying sunscreen and wearing appropriate clothing can help you with dealing with the sun exposure.
- Stop smoking. Smoking is not only linked to lung cancer but several other type of cancers too. So, if love yourself and your loved ones, quit smoking.
- Avoid drinking alcohol and if you cannot then drink in moderation.
MOST AFFECTED AREAS DUE TO CANCER
- The highest cancer rate for men and women together was in Australia, at 468.0 people per 100,000.
- The age-standardised rate was at least 320 per 100,000 for 12 countries: Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Hungary, the US, Belgium, France (metropolitan), Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Canada and New Caledonia (France).
- The countries in the top 12 come from Oceania, Europe and North America.
Whilst in India, Punjab is the cancer capital with the highest rates of cancer. New Delhi and Aizawal are also among the top cancer affected cities.
As a shift in the number of people being affected by cancer has been observed, at the same time, it is not a coincident that there is a tremendous shift in people’s lifestyles too. Environmental and lifestyle changes are to an extent our choices and priorities. It would be most wise to make your own health a priority by leading a balanced and healthy life.
Note* It would be most wise decision to make your own health a priority by purchasing a Health Insurance plan and opting for Critical Illness add on can protect you from financial burden in case of hospitalisation.
Sources: Cancer.gov & wcrf.org