Cancer isn't just one disease. It is a large and complex family of malignancies that can affect virtually every organ in the body. Cancer is second only to heart disease as the leading cause of death in the United States. Over 1.2 million new cases are diagnosed every year, with half of them occurring in the lung, prostate, breast, colon and rectum. Cancer can strike at any age, although it is most common in people over 50.
Cancer begins in the body's cells, which are constantly dividing and multiplying to replace old, damaged cells. Sometimes, cells begin to divide unnecessarily, forming excess tissue known as a tumor. In most cases, tumors are benign, meaning that they are not cancerous. Benign tumors, although they may cause some health problems depending on their size and location, are not life-threatening.
However, if an abnormal cell begins to divide, it eventually forms a malignant, or cancerous tumor. Most malignant tumors grow quite rapidly, invading nearby organs and tissues. Cancerous cells can also travel through the bloodstream to other regions of the body. When cancer spreads from its original site, the process is known as metastasis.
The good news is that cancer death rates have been declining in recent years, especially among men, who generally experience higher rates than women. Increasing public awareness has resulted in more people getting regular cancer screenings, and practicing healthy lifestyles to reduce their risk.
The vast majority of cancers--about 80%--are considered sporadic, meaning that there is no clear cause. For some reason, certain normal genes begin to mutate (change), multiplying rapidly and becoming malignant. There are several environmental influences that may cause these gene mutations to occur. In fact, a large number of cancers are preventable because most of these factors can be controlled with healthy lifestyle choices.
The other 20% of cancers are hereditary. This means that the abnormal gene responsible for causing the cancer is passed from parent to child, posing a greater risk for that type of cancer in all descendants of the family. However, just because someone has a cancer-causing gene doesn't mean they will automatically get cancer. If hereditary cancer is suspected, family members should consider genetic counseling and testing to determine their risk. Regular cancer screenings are recommended for high-risk families so that if cancer does occur, it will be diagnosed in the early stages, when it's most responsive to treatment.
Unfortunately, many types of cancer don't display any obvious symptoms or cause pain until well advanced. Because early-stage cancer symptoms tend to be subtle, they are often mistaken for signs of other, less-threatening diseases. Here are the seven warning signs of cancer:
Some symptoms are specific to certain types of cancer, such as difficult urination for prostate cancer, or flu-like symptoms for acute leukemias. Don't be afraid to discuss unusual symptoms with your doctor! Diagnostic tests are available for most common cancers. If diagnosed early, your chances of surviving cancer are greatly increased.
There is a wide array of methods to diagnose cancer. As researchers learn more about the mechanisms of cancer, new diagnostic tools are constantly being developed and existing methods refined. If your primary care physician suspects cancer, he or she may order some tests to confirm the diagnosis. These tests can either be conducted by your physician or by oncologists at cancer centers like Nazha Cancer Center. No matter who makes the diagnosis, a second opinion by a cancer expert is strongly recommended. Some types of cancer, particularly lymphomas, can be hard to classify, even for an expert. Accurate identification of cancer allows oncologists to choose the most effective treatment. The most common diagnostic methods include:
Up to 85% of cancers can be prevented by avoiding environmental risk factors like smoking, sun exposure, alcohol abuse and poor nutrition. Of course, things like age, race, gender and family history cannot be changed, but knowing your personal cancer risk can help you devise a prevention strategy with regular screenings and healthy lifestyle choices. Having one or more risk factors for cancer doesn't mean you will get cancer. In fact, many people considered high-risk never develop cancer while others with no known risk factors become ill.
Nazha Cancer Center can help you with risk assessment, cancer screening, genetic testing and other services, including information on nutrition and smoking cessation. Follow the road to cancer prevention by taking charge of your health.
Handling the initial diagnosis. Important things to know.
Educate yourself about cancer - causes, warning signs, and prevention.
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