In most people’s minds, there is no scarier diagnosis than Cancer. Cancer is often thought of an untreatable, unbearably painful disease with no cure. However popular this view of cancer may be, it is exaggerated and over generalized. Cancer is undoubtedly a serious and potentially life-threatening illness. For instance, it is the second leading cause of death globally and is estimated to account for 9.6 million death in 2018. Only cardiovascular disease exact a high toll. Even more agonizing than the associated mortality is the emotional and physical suffering inflicted by neoplasm. Patient and public often ask, “when will there be a cure for cancer’. The answer to this simple question is very difficult because cancer is not one disease but many disorders that share a profound growth deregulation. Some cancer, such as Hodgkin lymphoma as highly curable, whereas cancer of the pancreas, are virtually always fatal. There will be 1.5 million new cases of cancer occurring in the coming year.
The truth of the matter is that, there are multiple types of cancer, many of which can be effectively treated so as to eliminate, reduce or slow the impact of the disease on patient’s lives. It is the therefore a misconception to think that all forms of cancer are untreated and deadly. While a diagnosis of cancer may still leave patients feeling helpless and out of control, in many cases today, there is cause for hope rather than hopelessness. The reason for the title of this article; Awareness Is the First Step.
To achieve this, my goal in this article is to educate you on the basics of cancer and cancer treatment. Possessing this knowledge will help you to better understand what cancer is, how it occurs, and how to make informed choices about cancer care options.
What really is Cancer?
Before defining cancer, we should know that, cancer is a neoplastic lesion. Neoplasia is the new growth of cells in an abnormal manner such that, these proliferations are transformed and the transformed cells do not stop growing even when the growth inhibitory signals is removed. Neoplastic lesions can either be benign or malignant tumors. A tumor is any abnormal mass of tissues or neoplastic lesions of masses of tissues. Benign tumors will remain localized and will not spread. These tumors are not life threatening and have slow growth rate. On the other hand, malignant tumors are undifferentiated cells capable of spreading, invasion to distant tissues and destruction of tissues. Consequently, a malignant tumor arising from an epithelial tissue is what is referred to as cancer. This is because, a benign tumor of epithelial tissue will not be cancerous, rather an adenoma. Notwithstanding, this is quite confusing since there are exceptions such as lymphoma, hematoma, melanoma etc. are malignant. However, granuloma, tubercular, are inflammatory responses. These are not tumors. Having established the basic definition of cancer, let’s look at how it occurs.
How does it occur?
Our human body contains millions of cells; it grows, divides and dies in a conventional manner. Sometimes, the system goes wrong and uncontrolled number of cells grow, which leads to malignancy. The cancer cells combines and form extra mass of tissue knows as tumors. The abnormal growth and division observed in cancer cells is caused by damaged in genetic material inside cells that determines cellular characteristics and functioning. There are a variety of ways that cellular DNA can become damaged and defective, for example, environmental factors such as exposure to UV ray leads to cancer, occupational hazards such as exposure to aluminum, arsenic, welding fumes, lead compounds etc. are most prone to cancer. These factors initiate a chain of events that result in cellular DNA defect resulting in cancer. Alternatively, defective DNA can be inherited from parent.
Early diagnosis strategies improve cancer outcomes by providing care at the earliest possible stage and are therefore an important public health strategy in all settings. The barriers that delay cancer diagnosis must first be identified and assessed, and these factors may originate from patients to careers to health systems. There are three key steps to cancer early diagnosis:
- improve public awareness of different cancer symptoms and encourage people to seek care when these arise;
- invest in strengthening and equipping health services and training health workers so they can conduct accurate and timely diagnostics;
- Ensure people living with cancer can access safe and effective treatment, including pain relief, without incurring prohibitive personal or financial hardship.
Effective programs can then be implemented at various levels that include community engagement, improving diagnostic and referral capacity and ensuring access to timely, high-quality treatment.
To diagnose a tumor and decide whether a tumor is malignant or not, a sample must be taken by a surgeon or an interventional radiologist, sent to a laboratory, and examined under a microscope by a pathologist.
The outlook of a tumor will depend entirely on its type.
A benign tumor may pose no health problems at all. A malignant tumor, however, can be fatal and difficult to treat. The severity of a malignant tumor also depends on the location of the tumor and how quickly it can metastasize.
If you find a lump on your body that you suspect could be a tumor, have it checked by a doctor. The earlier a tumor can be identified, the quicker it can be treated if required.
According to current evidence, between 30% and 50% of cancer deaths could be prevented by modifying or avoiding key risk factors, including avoiding tobacco products, reducing alcohol consumption, maintaining a healthy body weight, exercising regularly and addressing infection-related risk factors.
To reduce the significant disability, suffering and deaths caused by cancer worldwide, effective and affordable programs in early diagnosis, screening, treatment, and palliative care are needed. Treatment options may include surgery, medicines and/or radiotherapy; treatment planning should be guided by tumor type, stage and available resources and informed by the preference of the patient. Palliative care, which focuses on improving the quality of life of patients and their families, is an essential components of cancer care. Accelerated action is needed to improve cancer care, achieve global targets to reduce deaths from cancer and provide health care for all consistent with universal health coverage.
Because cancer is a disorder of cell growth and behavior, its ultimate cause must be defined at the cellular and molecular levels. Cancer epidemiology can contribute substantially to knowledge about the origin of cancer. The now well-established concept that, cigarette smoking is causally associated with the lung cancer arose primarily from epidemiologic surveillance.
A comparison of incident rate for colon-cancer and dietary patterns in the Western world and in Africa led to the recognition that, dietary fat and fiber content may be figure importantly in the causation of this cancer. Major insight to the causes of cancer can be obtained by epidemiologic studies that relate particular environment, racial, and cultural influences to the specific neoplasms. Certain diseases associated with an increases risk of developing cancer also provide clues to the pathogenesis of cancer.
Written by a level 200 BSc. Physician Assistant Studies student;
University of Cape Coast.
Dr. Leonard Dekyi Kwarteng
Dr. Akapo francis
Dr. Kingsley Preko
Dr. Boadu Ama
Of the college of Health And Allied Sciences, School of Medical Sciences.
Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."