Cancer Facts: Symptoms of Cancer, Causes of Cancer, Cancer Defined
Cancer's medical term is "malignant neoplasm". Cancer study, diagnosis,
prevention and treatment are headed by the medicine branch, oncology. Cancer is
a class of diseases in which an accumulation of cells exhibit uncontrolled growth,
intrusion on and destruction of adjacent tissues, and spread to other locations
in the body through lymph or blood. Most cancers form a tumor; others like leukemia,
Cancer is a Leading Cause of Death Worldwide:
Cancer is the second leading cause of death after heart disease. 13% of all deaths
are caused by cancer. 7.6 million people died from cancer in the world during 2007.
Lung, stomach, colorectal, liver, and breast cancer cause the most cancer deaths
each year. Cancer can affect people at all ages, including fetuses. Cancer can even
affect animals. Risk of cancer can increase with age.
Symptoms of Cancer:
Cancer does not give you signs that exclusively indicate the disease. Seemingly
harmless symptoms may go unnoticed or be perceived as a symptom of another problem.
However, there are some common symptoms that if monitored closely can show themselves
to be links to cancer:
Persistent cough or blood‑tinged saliva
- These symptoms usually represent simple infections such asbronchitis or sinusitis.
- They could be symptoms of cancer of your lung, head, and neck. Anyone with a cough
that lasts more than a month or with blood in the mucus that is coughed up should
see a doctor.
A change in bowel habits
- Doctors sometimes see pencil-thin stools with colon cancer.
- Occasionally, cancer exhibits continuous diarrhea.
- Some people with cancer feel as if they need to have a bowel movement and still
feel that way after they have had a bowel movement. If any of these abnormal bowel
complaints last more than a few days, they require evaluation.
Blood in your stool
- A doctor always should investigate blood in your stool.
- Hemorrhoids frequently cause rectal bleeding, but because hemorrhoids are so common,
they may exist with cancer. Therefore, even when you have hemorrhoids, you should
have a doctor examine your entire intestinal tract when you have blood in your bowel
- X‑rays may be enough.
- Sometimes, when the source of your bleeding is entirely clear, these studies may
not be needed.
- Anemia is a condition in which you have fewer than the expected number ofred blood
cells in your blood. Anemia should be investigated.
- There are many kinds of anemia, but blood loss almost always causes iron deficiency
anemia. Unless there is an obvious source of ongoing blood loss, as there is for
menstruating women, this anemia needs to be explained.
- Many cancers can cause anemia, but bowel cancers most commonly causeiron deficiency
anemia. Evaluation should include endoscopy or x‑raystudies of your upper
and lower intestinal tracts.
Breast lump or breast discharge
- Most breast lumps are noncancerous tumors such as fibroadenomas orcysts. But all
breast lumps need to be thoroughly investigated.
- A negative mammogram result is not sufficient to evaluate a breast lump.
- Generally, diagnosis requires a needle aspiration or biopsy (a small tissue sample).
- Discharge from a breast is common. But some forms of discharge may be signs of cancer.
If discharge is bloody or from only 1 nipple, further evaluation is recommended.
- Women are advised to conduct monthly breast self‑examinations.
Lumps in the testicles
- Most men (90%) with cancer of the testicle have a painless or uncomfortable lump
on a testicle.
- Some men have an enlarged testicle.
- Other conditions, such as infections and swollen veins, can also cause changes in
your testicles, but you should have any lump evaluated.
- Men are advised to conduct monthly testicular self‑examinations.
A change in urination
- Urinary symptoms can include frequent urination, small amounts of urine, and slow
- These symptoms can be caused by urinary infections or, in men, by an enlarged prostate
- Most men will suffer from harmless prostate enlargement as they age, and will often
have these urinary symptoms.
- These symptoms may signal prostate cancer.
- Men experiencing urinary symptoms need a bit of investigation, probably including
a specific blood test called a PSA and a digital rectal exam.
- Cancer of the bladder and pelvic tumors can also cause irritation of the bladder
and urinary frequency.
Blood in the urine
- Hematuria or blood in the urine can be caused by urinary infection, kidney stones,
or other causes.
- For some people, it is a symptom of cancer of the bladder or kidney.
- Any episode of blood in the urine should be investigated.
- Hoarseness not caused by a respiratory infection or that lasts longer than 3‑4
weeks should be evaluated.
- Hoarseness can be caused by simple allergy or by vocal cord polyps, but it could
also be the first sign of cancer of the throat.
Persistent lumps or swollen glands
- Lumps most frequently represent harmless conditions. But your doctor should examine
any new lump or a lump that won't go away.
- Lumps may represent cancer or a swollen lymph gland related to cancer.
- Lymph nodes swell from infection and other causes and may take weeks to shrink again.
- A lump or gland that remains swollen for 3‑4 weeks should be evaluated.
Obvious change in a wart or a mole
- Multicolored moles that have irregular edges or bleed may be cancerous.
- Larger moles are more worrisome.
- Removing a mole is simple. You should remove any suspicious mole. The doctor will
send it for examination under a microscope for skin cancer.
Indigestion or difficulty swallowing
- Most people with chronic heartburn do not have serious problems.
- People who suffer from chronic or lasting symptoms despite using over‑the‑ounter
antacids may need to have an upper GI endoscopy.
- A condition called Barrett esophagus, which can lead to cancer of the esophagus,
can be treated with medication and then monitored by a doctor.
- Difficulty swallowing is a common problem, especially in elderly people, and has
- Swallowing problems need to be investigated, because nutrition is always important.
- Difficulty swallowing solids can be seen with cancer of the esophagus.
Unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge
- Unusual vaginal bleeding or bloody discharge may be an early sign of cancer of the
uterus. Women should be evaluated when they have bleeding after intercourse or bleeding
- Bleeding that comes back, that lasts 2 or more days longer than expected, or that
is heavier than usual also merits medical examination.
- Postmenopausal bleeding, unless expected on hormone therapy, is also worrisome and
should be evaluated.
- Usually, the evaluation will include an endometrial biopsy, in which a doctor takes
a small tissue sample from inside the uterus for testing.
Unexpected weight loss, night sweats, or fever
- These nonspecific symptoms might be present with several different types of cancer.
- Various infections can lead to similar symptoms.
Continued itching in your anus or geni
- Precancerous or cancerous conditions of the skin of the genital or anal areas can
cause persistent itching.
- You may notice skin color changes.
- Several infections or skin conditions also can cause these symptoms. If itching
does not stop with over‑the‑counter topical medications, your doctor
should inspect the area.
- Sores generally heal quickly. If an area fails to heal, you may have cancer and
should see a doctor.
- Nonhealing sores in your mouth or persistent white or red patches on your gums,
tongue, or tonsils are also should raise concerns.
- Headaches have many causes, but cancer is not a common one.
- A severe unrelenting headache that feels different from usual can be a sign of cancer.
- If your headache fails to improve with over‑the‑counter medications,
see a doctor promptly.
Back pain, pelvic pain, bloating, or indigestion
- These are common symptoms of daily life. But they also can be seen inovarian cancer.
- This cancer is particularly difficult to treat, because it is frequently diagnosed
late in the course of the disease.
- The American Cancer Society and other organizations have been trying to make both
patients and physicians more aware and consider this diagnosis if the classic symptoms
Early Cancer Detection
About one‑third of the cancer burden could be decreased if cases were detected
and treated early. Early detection of cancer is based on the observation that treatment
is more effective when cancer is detected earlier. The aim is to detect the cancer
when it is localized (before metastasis). There are two components of early detection
Education to help people recognize early signs of cancer and seek prompt medical
attention for symptoms, which might include: lumps, sores, persistent indigestion,
persistent coughing, and bleeding from the body's orifices.
Screening programmes to identify early cancer or pre-cancer before signs are recognizable,
including mammography for breast cancer, and cytology (a "pap smear") for
Some Types of Cancer:
There are about 200 different types of cancer. They can start in any type of body
tissue. What affects one body tissue may not affect another.
- Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia
- Bone Cancer
- Prostate Cancer
- Head and Neck Cancer
- Inflammatory Breast Cancer
- Merkel Cell Carcinoma
- Metastatic Cancer
- Brain Tumor
- Paget Disease of the Nipple
- Soft Tissue Sarcomas
- Synovial Sarcoma
- Testicular Cancer
- Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia
Causes of Cancer:
Carcinogens help to cause cancer and can be physical, biological or chemical.
- Physical carcinogens: ionizing radiation and ultraviolet radiation
- Biological carcinogens: infections from viruses, bacteria or parasites
- Chemical carcinogens: asbestos, tobacco smoke, aflatoxin (a food contaminant), and
Daily exposure to tobacco smoke, the sun, radiation, and asbestos raise the risk
of contacting cancer. Reducing or eliminating exposure to these harmful carcinogens
is highly recommended.
Viruses can cause genetic changes in cells that make them more likely to become
cancerous. The virus only causes cancer in certain situations. Many people can be
infected with a cancer causing virus but never get cancer. Cancers that are linked
to viruses are:
- Cervical cancer, and other cancers of the genital and anal area, including genital
wart virus, HPV
- Primary liver cancer and Hepatitis B and C viruses
- Lymphomas and the Epstein‑Barr Virus
- HPV may also lead to oropharyngeal cancer and some non melanoma skin cancers.
Bacterial infections have recently been acknowledged as cancer causing agents and
research is in an early stage. As more information is learned about the link between
bacterial infection and cancer, researchers hope to bacterial infection can play
large role in cancer prevention.
As we age, the risk of contracting cancer increases. This due to the fact that the
longer we live, the more time there is for genetic mistakes to occur. Changes that
make a cell become cancerous in the first place take a long time to develop. These
changes can happen by accident when the cell is dividing. Or they can happen because
the cell has been damaged by carcinogens and the damage is then passed on to future
'daughter' cells when that cell divides.
- Genetic Make Up
Some people are born with mutated cells that may or may not cause cancer. These
mutated cells increase the risk of cancer during a lifetime but do not guaranty
cancer. For example, women who carry either the BRCA1 or the BRCA2 breast cancer
genes have a higher chance of developing breast cancer than women who do not. Researchers
are looking into how other factors may interact with genes to increase risk of cancer.
- Weight, Diet and Physical Activity
Cancer experts have found that maintaining healthy bodyweight, making changes to
our diet and taking regular physical activity could prevent cancer. Diets that include
too much red and processed meat and not enough fresh fruit and vegetables may increase
risk of cancer. Drinking alcohol may also increase the risk of developing some types
of cancer. Healthy changes to diet and maintaining a healthy bodyweight can strengthen
the body's immune system, thus reducing the risk of cancer.
Immune System Problems
People who have problems with their immune systems are more likely to get some types
of cancer. This group includes people who...
- Have HIV or AIDS
- Are born with rare medical syndromes which affect their immunity
- Have had organ transplants and take drugs to suppress their immune systems to stop
The types of cancers that affect these groups of people fall into two, overlapping
- Cancers that are caused by viruses, such as cervical cancer and other cancers of
the genital or anal area, some lymphomas, liver cancer and stomach cancer
Chronic infections or transplanted organs can continually stimulate cells to divide.
This continual cell division means that immune cells are more likely to develop
genetic faults and develop into lymphomas.
Cancer Treatment and Care
Treatment aims to cure, prolong life and improve quality of life for patients. Some
of the most common cancer types, such as breast cancer, cervical cancer and colorectal
cancer, have high cure rates when detected early and treated according to best practice.
Principal treatment methods are surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Fundamental
for adequate treatment is an accurate diagnosis through imaging technology (ultrasound,
endoscopy or radiography) and laboratory (pathology) investigations. Relief from
pain and other problems can be achieved in over 90% of cancer patients through palliative
care. Effective ways exist to provide palliative care for patients and their families
in low resource settings.