What is cancer?
Cancer is a group of diseases that presents when the cells in a human body starts dividing uncontrollably. These cells form a mass called tumor which can invade the nearby organs or break off and travel to a distant organ. According to ICMR, India is expected to have a 12 percent rise in cancer cases by 2025. Most of the cancers are related to lifestyle, environmental and behavioral changes. There are two major types of cancers
- Solid Organ Tumors – e.g.: Breast Cancer, Oral Cancer, Gastrointestinal cancers
- Hematological (Blood Cancers) – e.g.: Lymphoma, Leukemia
While the solid organ tumors may present themselves as lumps/lesions, hematological cancers might not be physically visible.
The signs and symptoms presented by the patient need not be due to the tumor itself. It can be due to the pressure exerted by the tumor on nearby organs, blood vessels or nerves. It can also be due to the spread of cancer to any other part of the body other than the primary tumor site.
The best way to find out the presence of cancer is to listen to one’s own body. The symptoms that one may experience differ on the location of the tumor, stage of the cancer and overall health of the individual.
What are the general symptoms of cancer?
Unusual swelling or lump anywhere in the body
Persistent lumps seen in neck, armpit, chest, breast, stomach, groins etc. should be checked out even if it is not painful.
Unexplained weight loss
If you lose a noticeable amount of weight for no knows reason, consult a doctor.
Unexplained pain in any part of the body that persist for a long time or gets worse should be checked out.
Severe night sweats
It can also be due to medications, hormonal changes etc. Talk to the doctor
Tiredness or Fatigue
If you feel constant tiredness that does not go away with rest, consult a doctor.
Bleeding or bruising for no reason
Unexplained bleeding from any part of the body should be discussed with the doctor.
Changes in skin
- A lump that bleeds
- A sore that does not heal
- New mole or changes to an existing one
- Color change in eyes, nails etc. (like jaundice)
- Lump in your breast or armpits
- Itchy, Red or flaky skin on the breast
- Nipple discharges
- Pain in the breast
Changes in voice and breathing patterns
- Hoarse voice that does not go away
- Persistent cough
- Unusual shortness of breath that does not go on its own
- Blood in the sputum
Changes in eating habits
- Appetite changes
- Pain in the stomach after eating food
- Prolonged burning sensation in the stomach after meals
- Constipation or Diarrhea that doesn’t go away
- Blood in the stool
- Difficulty in urinating
- Pain while urinating
- Blood in the urine
- Increased frequency of urination
- Vision and hearing changes
Changes in the mouth
- Ulcers that do not heal
- Numbness in any part of the mouth
- Burning sensation of the tongue
- Difficulty in swallowing
Risk Factors of Cancer
Though everyone is prone for cancer, there are certain factors that increase the risk of cancer in different individuals. These include:
As cancer is a chronic disease and takes a long time to develop, it is commonly seen in individuals above 60 years.
Habits or Lifestyle choices
Smoking, Alcohol consumption, excessive exposure to sun, obesity etc. can increase your risk of cancer
Some types of cancers can be inherited through the genes. Hence if you have a family history of cancer, it can increase your risk to develop certain types of cancer.
Prolonged exposure to any carcinogenic chemicals like asbestos, coal tar etc can increase the risk of developing cancer. Exposure to any harmful radiation also increases the risk significantly.
When to Consult a Doctor?
If there are any persistent symptoms that are concerning, talk to the doctor and get the necessary tests done. If there are no symptoms and are worried about developing cancer, discuss the concerns with a doctor and ask about the necessity of a cancer screening test. Need to talk about your concerns? If you are from Bangalore and need to get connected to top oncologists, find out the best Bangalore cancer hospital on DCode Care.
How to Prevent Cancer?
Prevention of cancer or reducing the risk of cancer can be achieved by modifying the lifestyle choices and avoiding the risk factors of cancer. It is also important to get oneself checked by a doctor at the earliest if there are any concerning symptoms.
Some of the changes that can lower the risk of cancer significantly are:
- Avoid tobacco in all forms
Exposure to tobacco smoke even through passive smoking is one of major cause of lung cancers.
Reduce the consumption of preserved meat and saturated fats. Red meat is known to increase the risk of colon cancer. Include fruits, vegetables and whole grains in your daily diet. Reach out for cancer hospitals and a customized anti cancer diet plan.
Many types of cancer are associated with obesity and overweight. Regular physical activity and maintaining a healthy body weight will reduce the risk of cancer significantly.
- Use alcohol in moderation
The consumption of alcohol is linked to certain types of cancers like oral, esophagus, pharynx etc. The risk of cancer increases with the increase in the amount of alcohol consumed.
Some infections like hepatitis, HPV, HIV etc. contribute to cancer. Proper Vaccination and prevention of these infections can reduce the risk of cancer.
- Avoid unnecessary radiations
Get medical imaging only if necessary. Protect oneself from ultraviolet radiations of the sun which is one of the major causes of skin cancers and melanomas.
- Avoid exposure to industrial carcinogens
Substances in a working environment that are carcinogenic to humans are called as occupational carcinogens. Asbestos, benzene, coal tar etc have are known to increase the risk of cancer substantially. Prevention of exposure to these chemicals is an important part in preventing cancer.
What are cancer screening tests?
Cancer screening test help to detect people with early signs of cancer without symptoms. The early detection and diagnosis make the treatment more likely to be successful. Some common screening tests are:
- HPV testing and PAP smear testing for cervical cancer
- Mammography for breast cancer
- PSA testing for prostate cancer
- CA 125 testing for ovarian cancer
- Colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy and stool tests for colorectal cancer
- Alpha feto protein test for liver cancer
What Happens If I have Cancer?
If you get diagnosed for cancer, do not panic. Modern science has developed advanced treatments and therapies that deliver good outcomes. If your cancer is in early stages, chances are that you can be fully cured of cancer with minimal treatment. If your cancer is diagnosed in later stages (when it has spread beyond the primary site to other organs), cancer can be managed, probably a full cure is unlikely. Medical oncology offers a host of advanced therapies that deliver management of late-stage cancer while maintaining a good quality of life for the patient.