February 1, 2021
What is cancer and how does it begin:
Cancer is an abnormal growth of cells with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body. Abnormal cell growth is known as a tumour which could either be cancerous or non-cancerous (benign). A cancerous tumour means that it has the potential to grow and spread to other parts of the body. There are over 100 types of cancer with the four main types being: Carcinomas, Sarcomas, Leukaemia’s and Lymphomas.
Cancer begins when genetic changes interfere with the body’s normal process of cell growth and cell division. Abnormal cells start to grow uncontrollably and could form tumours. As a cancerous tumour grows cancer cells may be carried into other parts of the body through the bloodstream and go to the lungs, liver or brain or through the lymphatic system as well as local spreading to surrounding structures. This may result in growth of tumours within other parts of the body a process known as metastasis.
Cancer cells differ to normal cell in that they continue to divide without stopping, and do not turn into distinct cell types with specific functions as normal cells do. Cancer cells are also able to ignore signals from the body that tell normal cells to stop dividing and undergo a process known as apoptosis or programmed cell death, in which the body would normally get rid of unneeded cells.
Cancer cells can further influence normal cells to form blood vessels that provide the tumor with oxygen and nutrients, enabling its growth.
Causes of cancer:
Cancer is caused by changes or mutations to the DNA within your cells which prevent cell repair. The factors involved may be genetic, environmental, or constitutional characteristics of the individual. There are various risk factors that could increase your risk of cancer such as:
Signs and Symptoms:
Potential signs and symptoms vary with each cancer and may include unexplained weight loss, unusual bleeding, lumps or tissue masses, changes in bowel movements or bladder functions, skin changes, fatigue, prolonged coughing or shortness of breath and pathological fractures. Signs and symptoms of cancer will vary dependant on which part of the body is affected.
Diagnosing cancer at its earliest stage often provides the best chance for the best treatment response. If you have symptoms that may suggest cancer, consult with your doctor so that they may do an examination which may include a history of your current symptoms and also establish if there is a family history of cancer, and send you for appropriate tests. Such tests could include laboratory tests and imaging tests.
Screening should be done at regular intervals for people who have a family history of having cancer.
Currently screening is available for certain cancers such as breast, colon, cervical, prostate and lung cancer.
There are many types of cancer and treatment requires careful consideration of evidence-based options which can include:
Reviewed by Dr Nokwanda Zuma Specialist Clinical Oncologist at Busamed Modderfontein Private Hospital Orthopaedic and Oncology Centre.
Tel: +27 11 458 2041
November 22, 2023
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