Cancer: Overview, causes, treatments, and types

Cancer is one of the most dreaded amidst vastly varied diseases. It is a form of a disease that is caused due to cellular changes that lead to abnormal growth and division of cells. Some cancers can lead to an increase in the growth of cells, whereas other types of cancer can slow down cell growth. All cells of the body have a definite life span with specific functions, unlike cancer cells that lack components that provide instructions to stop diving or die. Hence, these cells build up numerously and consume the share of oxygen and nutrients of the body which would otherwise nourish other healthy cells. Cancer cells infiltrate and destroy the normal body tissue, and can cause tumour growth, weaken or impair the immune system, or cause certain changes that lead to abnormal body functions.

Symptoms of cancer depend on the type of cancer and also from person-to-person. That said, some of the general symptoms of cancer include fatigue, lump, weight changes, thickening under the skin, pale skin, redness or skin rash, bowel changes, consistent cough, shortness of breath, hoarseness, difficulty in swallowing, difficulty after food, indigestion, unexplained muscle pain, changes to existing moles, unexplained bleeding, bruising, and persistent night sweats or fever. Symptoms of cancer also depend on the intensity and progression of cancer in the body.

Today, cancer is one of the top two leading causes of death worldwide majorly because of a lack of awareness of its causes, diagnosis, and treatment. Hence, awareness about cancer needs to spread so that one knows when to seek medical help.

Types of cancer

As of today, there are more than 100 types of cancer that exist. Some of these include:

  • Lung cancer
  • Skin cancer
  • Blood cancer
  • Neck cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Thyroid cancer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Melanoma
  • Thyroid
  • Endometrial 

Causes of cancer

Cancer is caused when there are changes or mutations in the DNA within cells. The DNA further contains a large number of individual genes that store instructions for the cells to perform, grow and divide. When these instructions are disrupted, it causes the cell to stop its normal functioning and the cells may become cancerous. Most common gene mutations cause cells to rapidly grow and increase uncontrollably. Gene mutations could be inherited from parents or can occur due to multiple other reasons.

While all causes that lead to gene dysfunction cannot be defined but some of the most common causes of cancer are:

  • Smoking
  • Radiation
  • Viruses
  • Carcinogens
  • Hormones
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Overweight or obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Poor nutrition

While gene mutations occur normally in cells, but cells recognize the mistake and correct it instantly, but in cases where the mistake is missed, the cells could become cancerous.

These are a few preventable causes of cancer, while many cancer causes are not preventable and increase the risk for cancer; these causes include age, genetic disorders, family history, health conditions, surrounding environment, etc.  

Treatment for cancer

Each cancer is different and hence, treatment depends on the type of cancer, the stage of cancer, the age of the patient, as well as the person’s overall health and medical history. However, a few approaches to the treatment of cancer include:

  • Chemotherapy: This method of treatment of cancer aims at rapidly growing cells and kills them with medications. These medications also help shrink the tumour, though the side effects are intense.
  • Immunotherapy: Cancer cells are very adaptive to their surrounding environment and hence, make it very difficult to detect cancer. Immunotherapy is a technique that trains and strengthens the body’s immune system to find and attack the cancer cells similar to the way it fights with bacteria. A few types of immunotherapy include monoclonal antibodies, checkpoint inhibitors, vaccines, cytokines, and CAR T-cell therapy.
  • Precision Medicine: precision or personalized medicine aims at individualizing targeted treatment at the right stage of cancer treatment in the patient. Precision medicine involves setting the course of treatment depending on the patient’s medical history, test results, genes, lifestyle, diet, and the surrounding environment. Precision medicine is dependent on the gene changes or mutations that are unique to each cancer and hence, set the foundation for the type of course needed.
  • Radiation Therapy: This is a form of therapy that uses radioactive liquids called radioisotopes to destroy cancer cells in the body. This liquid can be inserted into the veins via an injection or can be taken in the form of a capsule or drink. Cancer cells tend to consume more radioactive elements than normal cells, which helps to eventually destroy them by killing their DNA.
  • Surgery: Cancer can also be removed through surgery in cases where there is a cancerous tumour; moreover, the doctors might remove all lymph nodes to stop the growth and spreading of cancer.
  • Targeted Therapies: Therapies such as small-molecule drugs modify the functions in the cancerous cells to prevent them from multiplying. These therapies also aim to boost the immune system to fight cancerous cells more effectively.

Treatments for cancer are constantly innovating and improving to minimize the spread of this dreadful disease. The need today is to be aware of the causes, symptoms, types, and treatments for cancer so that the right medical help at the right time is obtained.