Each year, over one million Americans are diagnosed with cancer. When someone has just been told that they have cancer, it is very shocking at first. There are so many things to think about. All of the medical information that a doctor gives a cancer patient can be very overwhelming, as well as all of the things that people hear from friends and family. Also, many people learn things about cancer by watching television, reading magazines and books, and by doing research on the internet. This article will help you better understand the basics of cancer, what type of people are at higher risk, and the signs and symptoms of cancer. Also, it touches on the importance of screening for cancer, and treatment and support for people who have been diagnosed with cancer.
Cancer - The Beast Within
The good news is that most of the people who are diagnosed with cancer today will survive with treatment. Most types of cancer are curable if the disease is found at an early stage. Stages are used to identify the extent of a person’s cancer, the appropriate treatment, and the prognosis (what the future holds for the patient’s health/how long he or she will live). Staging systems use numbers, letters, or roman numerals. In all staging systems, the higher the number or letter, the greater the amount of the body involved in the cancer. The lesser the number or letter, the better. Since most cancers are treatable if found at an early stage, it is hopeful for most patients who discover that they have cancer. Some types of cancer are even curable if the disease has spread throughout the body. With quick treatment and the right type of support and monitoring, most people can even live a productive and successful life with cancer for many years.
One similar characteristic that all cancer types share is that they all originate from abnormal cells in the body. The development of these abnormal cells is a very long process called carcinogenesis. This process starts with damage to one or more genes that eventually causes a cell to produce more abnormal cells. The end of this long process leads to a tumor that is usually detectable. A tumor is any abnormal lump, bump, or mass of tissue. A tumor can be benign or malignant. A benign tumor is usually slow growing and it does not spread or invade surrounding tissue. A benign tumor does not spread to distant parts of the body. A malignant tumor invades surrounding tissue and often spreads to other parts of the body. Even if a tumor is removed, a cancer may come back if its cells have already spread to other parts of the body. Overall, the entire process of carcinogenesis can take many years from the time the abnormal cells start to replicate until the person notices any signs or symptoms of a tumor.What is Cancer?
Cancer is classified by the place in the body where it starts and by the way it looks under a microscope. One way that doctors refer to cancer types is by the type of tissue where the tumor develops or the cell type that it affects. Eighty to ninety percent of cancer cases are called carcinomas which originate in the epithelial tissue. Epithelial tissue is found throughout the body and it encompasses the skin as well as the lining of most organs. Carcinomas are divided into two main sub-types based on where they originate. Adenocarcinoma is a cancer that develops from the cells of a gland. Squamous cell carcinoma is a cancer that starts in the flat cells that cover the surface of the skin, mouth, cervix, and other organs. A sarcoma is a cancer that originates in the connective tissue such as bones, tendons, cartilage, muscle, and fat. Leukemia is cancer of the bone marrow which is where blood cells are made. Myeloma is cancer that originates in the plasma cells which produce antibodies in the bone marrow. Lymphoma is a cancer that originates in the lymphoid tissue, which are important immune system cells that are found in the lymph nodes and other organs. Lymph nodes are located in the underarm and groin areas, on the sides of the neck, and inside the chest and abdomen. Lymph nodes help the body to produce white blood cells which fight off infections. Tumors of the nervous system are named after the specific type of cell they affect; and tumors of the reproductive system (testicles and ovaries) are called germ cell tumors. Finally, some types of cancers are named after the person who discovered them.
Many people are fearful of cancer and most people want to know who is at risk of getting cancer. First, cancer is more likely to occur in older people. Most cases affect adults beginning in middle age (50 and older). Also, men are more likely to get cancer than women. The most common cancers in men and women are prostate and breast cancer, as well as skin cancer for both. People with a family history of cancer are at a higher risk for developing cancer. Some individuals who have a family history of cancer might want to consider genetic testing. Genetic testing checks to see if a person has a certain gene mutation that is known to increase the risk for a certain diseases. Other people who are at risk of getting cancer are those with a low socioeconomic standing due to education on the disease and poor access to healthcare. There are also differences in who gets cancer based on race/ethnicity.
Moreover, the environment is a factor in determining who gets cancer. For instance, tobacco accounts for at least thirty percent of all cancer deaths affecting smokers and non-smokers who breathe in second-hand smoke. Smoking can cause lung cancer, as well as numerous other types of cancer because the carcinogens in smoke affect many parts of the body. Alcohol causes many types of cancer including cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and more. Alcohol damages the liver and is also linked with causing breast cancer. Another environmental factor to consider is diet and physical activity as well as sexual and reproductive behavior. Diets high in fat and low in fruits and vegetables, as well as minimal or no physical activity put people at higher risk for developing cancer. People with sexually transmitted diseases are at higher risk, as well as women who delay or avoid having children due to higher exposure to estrogen in the body. Ultimately, those who do not treat their bodies the right way are at higher risk for developing cancer. Finally, carcinogens in the environment such as chemicals and radiation in our homes and work places is another factor to consider.Cancer Symptoms
Furthermore, most people want to know what the signs and symptoms of cancer are so that they can be aware of what is going on with their bodies. The signs and symptoms may change as cancer progresses through different stages. Some of the first signs are actually physically felt such as swelling or thickening of the skin near the site of the tumor. For example, when a woman notices a lump in her breast that was not previously there before, she should get it checked by a doctor to make sure it is not cancer. However, tumors that are not near the surface of the skin that are deeper in the body are usually accompanied by aches and pains near the site of the tumor. For instance a tumor in or near the brain can lead to headaches; and a tumor near a lower organ like the pancreas can lead to back pain. Also, when cancer spreads to a bone, one might feel pain in the affected bone. Another sign is when blood is found in bodily discharge. For instance, sometimes cancer patients find blood in the stool, sputum, semen in men, and vaginal discharge in women. In some cancer cases, a person might feel weak, dizzy, or have trouble speaking or thinking depending on where the tumor is growing. Furthermore, as a person’s body starts to fight off the cancer, he or she might experience symptoms that are similar to when one gets sick: fever, chills, tiredness, loss of appetite. In addition, unexplained weight loss and skin changes are other signs to look for. Finally, a few more things to notify your doctor of are the following: a change in bowel habits or bladder function, a sore that does not heal properly, unusual bleeding or discharge, indigestion or difficulty swallowing, change in a wart or mole, and a nagging cough or hoarseness. All of the above mentioned signs and symptoms do not necessarily mean that a person has cancer because he or she experiences one of these; however, it is important to be aware of the changes that take place in your body and to see your doctor if you consistently have one of these symptoms.
It is crucial for all individuals to do self-examinations on a consistent basis in order to notice any changes in your own body. In addition to this, if you have a history of cancer in your family, it is important to be screened by a doctor with appropriate tests to make sure you are safe. It is a good idea for your doctor to do a thorough physical examination and to perform certain screening tests. Although they do not always detect any single tumor on a person’s body, it is important to make this a habit to ensure your health. The main cancer sites that are checked by a doctor are the breast, colorectal area, prostate, and cervix. The American Cancer Society recommends a cancer-related checkup every three years for men and women with no symptoms who are 20 to 39 years of age and an annual checkup for those who are 40 and older. Finally, look at the website for the American Cancer Society for guidelines and detailed information on cancer testing for early cancer detection. Here, you will find a detailed list of which tests to do and at what age you should complete them. They also give helpful hints on self-examinations (such as breast self examinations and testicular self examinations) and diagnostic testing. Diagnostic testing includes x-rays, CT scans (computed tomography), MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), ultrasound, blood work, biopsy, endoscopy, bone marrow analysis, nuclear procedures, and even surgery in some cases.Cancer Treatments
Most internists and family practice doctors will refer cancer patients to an oncologist who is a physician that specializes in the treatment of cancer. You have the right to choose your own oncologist as well as to get a second opinion at any point in treatment. It is important for a patient to like his or her doctor as well as the team of nurses and support staff who assist patients. The oncologist will determine what stage of cancer a patient is in, as well as come up with a plan for treatment and support. The main types of treatment include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Surgery is when the doctor actually removes the cancer (tumor) from the patient’s body by operating. Chemotherapy is treatment with anticancer drugs that are injected into the bloodstream or taken by mouth. These drugs are supposed to breakdown the cancer cells causing the cells to eventually die. Radiation therapy is used to destroy malignant tumors while limiting damage to nearby normal tissue. Some doctors choose all three types of treatment in combination for patients with cancer. As with most types of diseases, there are also some types of therapies that are being investigated for use in the future in which cancer patients can choose to participate in today.
For all cancer patients undergoing treatment, it is important for them to maintain a healthy diet and to continue to do as much physical activity as they feel comfortable doing, as well as what the doctor allows them to do. For cancer patients who experience pain throughout any point in the process, talk to your doctor or support team and communicate with them what you are feeling. They need to know so that they can give you ideas on how to alleviate or lessen the pain. All patients experience different levels of pain, and different things work for different patients. For instance, patients use medicines, acupuncture, nerve stimulation, physical therapy, massage therapy, yoga, meditation, and relaxation techniques.
Aside from the physical support, cancer patients also need emotional support. A lot is taking place all at once, and their entire world is changing. Therefore, it is important for patients to seek emotional support from family, friends, support groups, nurses, doctors, and sometimes psychiatrists. It is alright to talk about your fears, your pain, your questions, and your hopes. Emotional support is very important throughout this difficult process.Cancer Awareness
Research has shown that the less people know about cancer, the more they fear it. It is so important to learn more about cancer so that you can help not only yourself but other people who you care about. Some important websites that promote cancer awareness are the following:
- American Cancer Society
- American Institute for Cancer Research
- American Medical Association
- American Society of Clinical Oncology
- The American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Leukemia and Lymphoma Society
- National Cancer Institute
- Skin Cancer Foundation
- The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation
- Make-A-Wish Foundation
Most of this article was derived from the book titled “Informed Decisions- Second Edition- The Complete Book of Cancer Diagnosis, Treatment, and Recovery.” The authors of the book are: Harmon Eyre, M.D., Dianne Lange, and Lois Morris. The book was published by the American Cancer Society- Health Content Products.
Patients can have misdiagnoses of cancer or a failure to diagnose cancer. In these cases, if a physician fails to observe symptoms that are clear and this leads to a faulty diagnosis, the physician can be held liable if damage or death results. There are a myriad of circumstances where a medical provider can be held liable for misdiagnosis of a condition. Please contact one of our experienced Maryland Medical Malpractice Lawyers to discuss your case.