Cancer is caused when the body’s cells divide and spread uncontrollably. These cancerous cells are referred to as malignant (healthy cells are benign). Although cancer can form in any part of the body, malignant cells are spread most frequently by the blood and lymph systems. After heart disease, it is the second leading cause of death in the United States, with over 100 forms of the disease diagnosed in patients.
Doctors use a variety of screening tools to diagnose cancer. One of the most common is a biopsy. For this method, the doctor cuts a small piece of the tumor or skin growth and examines it under a microscope. Mammograms and Pap tests are often used to diagnose various types of cancer in women. MRI’s are commonly used, as well.
Cancer can be divided into five broad categories:
- Carcinoma: Originates in skin or tissues that cover the internal organs
- Sarcoma: Affects bone, cartilage, fat, muscle, or any of the body’s connecting tissue
- Leukemia: Originates in the blood-producing areas of the body (typically the bone marrow). Large numbers of abnormal cells enter the bloodstream and crowd out the healthy cells.
- Lymphoma and myeloma: Forms within the body’s immune system
- Central nervous system cancers: Originates in the body’s brain or spinal cord
The ten most commonly diagnosed forms of cancer are:
- Bladder Cancer
- Breast Cancer
- Colon Cancer and Rectal (often diagnosed as colorectal) Cancer
- Endometrial Cancer
- Kidney Cancer
- Leukemia Cancer
- Lung Cancer
- Melanoma Cancer
- Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Cancer
Depending on the patient’s type of cancer, they may want to explore a wide variety of treatment options. Some forms of cancer respond well to medication and no further treatment may be needed. Most patients must undergo chemotherapy (the distribution of a combination of drugs that directly attack the cancer-causing cells) or radiation therapy (targeted destruction of the cancerous cells using low doses of ionized radiation) over the course of their treatment.
Both chemotherapy and radiation therapy cause a wide range of side effects. Chemotherapy also attacks the body’s healthy cells and commonly causes hair loss, fatigue, and nausea. Radiation often causes fatigue and skin irritation.
Some forms of cancer can be treated with surgery. This can be especially effective if the patient’s tumor is able to be removed (tumors found in delicate areas of the body, such as the brain or spine, are often inoperable) and has not spread to other parts of the body.
Several patients find some relief from a combination of these therapies. It is also very common for patients to rely on a number of vitamins and supplements to enhance their treatment and boost their body’s immune system.
Cancer is usually divided into four stagesto determine how much the disease has spread. Each stage has its own symptoms and prognoses:
- Stage I: Cancer is found in a certain part of the body
- Stage II: The disease has moved from its point of origin to nearby parts of the body
- Stage III: The cancer has advanced. Depending on the type of cancer, a patient’s physician will likely suggest a more aggressive treatment method
- Stage IV: The cancer has spread, or metastasized, to other major organs or throughout the entire body