Cancer is the second-leading cause of death worldwide. 70% of cancer deaths occur in low-to-middle income countries. Up to 3.7 million lives could be saved each year by implementing resource appropriate strategies for prevention, early detection and treatment.
Cancer is a disease which occurs when changes in a group of normal cells within the body lead to uncontrolled, abnormal growth forming a lump called a tumour; this is true of all cancers except leukaemia (cancer of the blood). If left untreated, tumours can grow and spread into the surrounding normal tissue, or to other parts of the body via the bloodstream and lymphatic systems, and can affect the body systems or release hormones that may affect body function.
Cancer tumours can commonly divided into 2 groups:
Benign and Malignant.
BENIGN TUMOURS are not cancerous and rarely threaten life. They tend to grow quite slowly, do not spread to other parts of the body and are usually made up of cells quite similar to normal or healthy cells. They will only cause a problem if they grow very large, becoming uncomfortable or press on other organs/structure.
MALIGNANT TUMOURS are faster growing than benign tumours and have the ability to spread and destroy neighbouring tissue. Cells of malignant tumours can break off from the main (primary) tumour and spread to other parts of the body through a process known as metastasis. Upon invading healthy tissue at the new site they continue to divide and grow. These secondary sites are known as metastases and the condition is referred to as metastatic cancer.
TYPES OF CANCERS:
Cancer may be classified according to the type of cell they start from. There are five main types:
Carcinoma: A cancer that arises from the epithelial cells (the lining of cells that helps protect or enclose organs).
Sarcoma: A type of malignant tumour of the bone or soft tissue (fat, muscle, blood vessels, nerves and other connective tissues that support and surround organs).
Lymphoma and Myeloma: Lymphoma and Myeloma are cancers that begin in the cells of the immune system.
Leukaemia – Leukaemia is a cancer of the white blood cells and bone marrow, the tissue that forms blood cells.
Brain and spinal cord cancers: these are known as central nervous system cancers.
CAUSES of CANCER:
The causes of cancer is multifactorial.
It is important to remember that, while some factors cannot be modified, around one third of cancer cases can be prevented by reducing behavioural and dietary risks.
MODIFIABLE RISK FACTORS include:
– Being overweight or obese
– Diet and nutrition
– Physical inactivity
– Work Place Hazard
– Ionizing Radiation
– Tobacco: Tobacco smoke contains at least 80 different cancer-causing substances (carcinogenic agents). When smoke is inhaled the chemicals enter the lungs, pass into the blood stream and are transported throughout the body. This is why smoking or chewing tobacco not only causes lung and mouth cancers but is also related to many other cancers. Currently tobacco use is responsible for around 22% of cancer deaths.
– Infection: Around 70% of cervical cancers are caused by Human papillomavirus (HPV) infections, while liver cancer and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma can be caused by the Hepatitis B and C virus, and lymphomas are linked to the Epstein-Barr virus.
NON-MODIFIABLE RISK FACTORS include:
– Age: Many types of cancer become more prevalent with age.
– Cancer-causing substances (carcinogens): are substances which change how a cell behaves, increasing the chances of developing cancer.
– Genetics: Some people are unfortunately born with a genetically inherited high risk for a specific cancer (‘genetic predisposition). This does not mean developing cancer is guaranteed, but a genetic predisposition makes the disease more likely.
– The immune system: People who have weakened immune systems are more at risk of developing some types of cancer. This includes people who have had organ transplants and take drugs to suppress their immune systems to stop organ rejection, plus people who have HIV or AIDS, or other medical conditions which reduce their immunity to disease.
SIGNS and SYMPTOMS of CANCER:
With so many different types of cancers, the symptoms varies and depend on its location. However, there are some key signs and symptoms to look out for, including:
– Unusual lumps or swelling
– Coughing, breathlessness or difficulty swallowing
– Changes in bowel habit
– Unexpected bleeding
– Unexplained weight loss
– Pain or ache
– New mole or changes to a mole
– Complications with urinating
– Unusual breast changes
– Appetite loss
– A sore or ulcer that won’t heal
– Persistent or painful heartburn or indigestion
– Heavy night sweats
Over a third of all cancers can be prevented by reducing exposure to risk factors such as tobacco, obesity, physical inactivity, infections, alcohol, environmental pollution, occupational carcinogens and radiation.
Prevention of certain cancers may also be effective through vaccination against the Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) and the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), helping to protect against liver cancer and cervical cancer respectively.
EARLY DETECTION OF CANCER
There are a number of cancers which can be identified early which helps to improve the chances of successful treatment outcomes, often at lower costs and with fewer (or less significant) side effects for patients. There are cost-effective tests that help detect colorectal, breast, cervical and oral cancers early and further tests are being developed for other cancers.
Check with your doctor for guidance on the national recommendations regarding vaccinations, testing and screenings.
TNM staging system is the common language adopted by oncology health professionals to communicate on the cancer extent for individual patients. This is often a basis for deciding appropriate treatment and individual prognosis.
T – describes the size of the main (primary) tumour
N – describes whether the cancer has spread to the nearby lymph nodes
M – describes whether the cancer has metastasised (spread from the primary tumour to another part of the body)
MANAGING AND TREATING CANCER:
Treatment depends on the type of cancer, where the cancer is, how big it is, whether it has spread, and general health. The general types of treatments include: surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormone therapy, immunotherapy, and gene therapy. Furthermore, Survivorship & Palliative care can also be implemented in the management of cancer.