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Cancer is a term used to describe the uncontrollable growth of abnormal cells. There are more than 100 diseases that fit beneath the umbrella term of cancer. Cancerous cells can exist anywhere in the body, and may group together in masses of tissue known as tumors. Tumors, while often a sign of cancer, do not have to be cancerous. The natural aging process or certain health conditions can cause the formation of tumors.
According to the National Cancer Institute, the following are the most commonly diagnosed cancer types:
Cancer is a growing concern in America. About 4,400 new cases of cancer are diagnosed each day, translating to more than 1.6 million new cases of cancer each year. Almost 1,600 people die of cancer each day, and economic costs due to cancer are as high as $216 billion per year.
Because the term “cancer” encompasses such a large variety of diseases, there is not a single cause of cancer. Fundamentally, cancer occurs when changes or mutations in the genetic material in the cell cause rapid division that cannot be controlled by the cell’s normal regulatory processes. Certain types of mutations are more common in cancer cells than others, such as mutations in the gene for the Ras protein signaling gene. However, there is not a single mutation that is common among all cancer types and patients. The causes of many cancers remain unknown.
The causes behind the genetic mutations are largely unknown. Researchers have identified many carcinogens, substances that have found to increase the risk of cancer. Exposure to carcinogens does not guarantee cancer development, and they are therefore not the sole cause of cancer.
Known carcinogens include:
Though many causes of cancer remain unknown, there are several risk factors that are known to increase the risk of developing cancer. These include:
Diagnostic tests for cancer vary from type to type. Below are the most common diagnostic tests for cancer:
Because of the broad range of possible cancers, there is an almost infinite list of possible cancer symptoms.
While the following symptoms are some of the basic signs of cancer, they can also be caused by a variety of other diseases. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with your doctor. He or she will be able to conduct the proper diagnostic tests to determine the cause of your symptoms.
According to the American Cancer Society, the following are signs and symptoms of cancer:
The prognosis for cancer largely depends on the type of cancer and how early it is detected. When detected early, five year survival rates for cancer can be as high as 98%, with the average falling somewhere around 65%. When receiving a cancer prognosis, it is important to remember that the numbers given are estimates – patients often live shorter or longer than expected when the cancer course takes an unexpected turn.
Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be difficult for both you and your loved ones. The following tips can help you live more comfortably through your time of treatment and recovery:
Early detection of cancer and effective early treatment can significantly increase a patient’s chances of survival.
The American Cancer Society recommends the following early-detection methods:
If you experience any usual or sudden changes in your body, report your symptoms to your doctor. These may be important warning signs of cancer or other serious conditions.
Cancer prevention is one of the most controversial topics among the scientific community today. Some people believe that eating certain diets, avoiding certain substances, and living in a particular way can help reduce the chance of developing cancer, though there is not enough evidence available to definitely support any of these theories.
You can, however, do your best to live a healthy lifestyle to support your body’s overall health. The following are tips for a healthy life:
There are a number of different treatment methods available for treating cancer. These include:
Chemotherapy. Chemo therapy, chemical therapy, or “chemo” is a term used to describe drugs used to treat cancer that kill cancer cells directly. Chemotherapy drugs are most often administered intravenously (through an IV inserted into a vein), though some chemo drugs come in pill, cream, or injection form. Chemotherapy drugs may be administered at home, at a doctor’s office, or in a hospital at the discretion of your doctor. Some doctors may choose to do successive chemo treatments; others may choose to space out the treatments to allow the body time to recover. Chemotherapy most often causes serious acute side effects, meaning they only last for the duration of the treatment. These may include:
Unfortunately, chemotherapy can also cause more long-lasting side effects. These include:
Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy uses concentrated radiation to directly damage the DNA of cancer cells, effectively killing them. Radiation is delivered through an external machine or through a medium placed inside of the body. Radiation therapy must be pin-pointed to the exact cancerous area because it kills both healthy and cancerous cells.
Acute side effects of radiation therapy include:
Long term side effects may include:
Other cancer treatments include:
Many cancer patients seek alternative modes of treatment as an alternative to modern medical approaches or when modern medical approaches have not been effective. However, there is limited scientific data to support the efficacy of any alternative mode of cancer treatment. The following treatment forms are listed as possible alternative cancer treatments by the National Cancer Institute:
Alternative medical systems offer their own approaches to cancer treatment. Popular alternative modes of medicine include:
Mind and body approaches can help to control symptoms and manage stress due to illness. These include:
Dietary approaches. Many nutritional experts believe that an appropriate is the key to fighting cancer. Possibly beneficial methods for cancer treatment include:
If you notice any sudden changes in your body, energy level, or skin/hair, make an appointment with your doctor to determine the cause of the symptoms. The chances of bodily changes being cancer are rare, but early detection can greatly increase the chance of survival if it is cancer, so close monitoring and attentiveness is crucial.
If you are being treated for cancer, call your doctor if you experience any of the following:
If you have just been diagnosed with cancer, you may want to ask your doctors the following questions:
For more information, read more here:
American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute
Curators and librarians at forevercurious.org have put together a list of cancer resources:
Financial Resources for Cancer Patients
Assistance Speaking to Your Doctor about Treatment
Looking Good with Cancer: Tips for Looking Your Best
Online Communities For Cancer Patients
Legal Resources for Cancer Patients
Cancer Screening Guidelines by Age
Skin Cancer Screening: What to Expect
What to Expect During, Before, and After Radiation Treatment
This is a series of short, informative videos that share exactly what to expect throughout the process of radiation treatment.
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The Conversation: A Guide to Talking About End-of-Life Arrangements with Your Loved Ones
Comprehensive guide to helping loved ones cope with a cancer diagnosis
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