Cancer refers to an uncontrollable or unregulated growth of abnormal body cells, also known as malignant cells, in the body. The term cancer often used to refer to a group of different diseases that result from such cell growth, and their classification is usually based on the initially affected cell. Common types of cancer include carcinomas, sarcomas, lymphomas, leukemia and adenomas (McCance, Huether & Brashers, 2009).
Causes of Cancer
The major causes of cancer include carcinogens from radiations and tobacco, hereditary genes from family members, damages or mutations of DNA cells and other socio-physiological factors such as old age, health status, for instances, contraction of hepatitis B or C and HIV viruses.
Physiological Effects of Cancer
Usually, cancer becomes harmful to the body as the damaged cells continue to divide and regroup to form masses of tissues known as tumors, for instance, leukemia cancer that blocks the blood hence interfering with circulatory functions. Similarly, growth of tumors may affect the digestive and nervous systems. Sometimes cancer releases hormones that alter the normal functioning of the body.
Diagnosis and Staging of Cancer
For effective diagnosis and treatment of cancer, it should be detected at it early stages. This would help reduce chances of further growth, more complications and difficult encounters in treatment. During diagnosis, physicians often use information on signs and symptoms and other medical procedures to diagnose cancer. Ultrasound scans, X-rays, CT and MRI scans are common imaging techniques used in detecting, identifying and allocating the position of cancer in the body and the respective affected organ (Moscow & Cowan, 2007). Sometimes, doctors perform endoscopy to search for abnormalities within the body. Diagnosis also involves extraction of cancer cells for microscopic examination, a process called biopsy. In addition, examination and analysis of blood sugar levels, body fats, proteins and DNA are carried out. Certain types of cancers, such as prostate cancer, can be easily detected through blood test due to its secretion of Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) into the bloodstream. According to Copstead and Banasik, molecular diagnosis, biopsies and imaging techniques are all required for effective diagnosis of cancer (Copstead & Banasik, 2010). After diagnosis, the physician determines the extent to which the cancer has spread and establishes its development stage. This stage will dictate the type of treatment to be offered (Porth, 2010).
The most common method of staging cancer is the use of TNM system. In this system, the extent and size of a primary tumor is indicated by T with numerical values between 1and 4. The degree to which cancer has spread is indicated by N with figures ranging from 0 to 3 whereas the extent of infection of body organs by cancer is represented by M which is assigned either 0 or 1. For example, a chronic lung cancer can be staged as (T4, N3, M1) (Fitzgibbon & Loeser, 2010). Usually, cancers at initially stage will be assigned lower value indicate that they have less spread while chronic cancers will be assigned higher values during staging to indicate their severity.
Treatment of Cancer
Cancer treatment will depend on four main factors; type and stage, personal characteristics such as age and health status. Usually, cancer treatment combines any of the following forms; surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, hormonal therapy and gene therapy (Yarbro, Wujcik & Gobel, 2010).
Side Effects of Cancer Treatments
Different patients encounter different side effects after receiving cancer medications. The most common effects, however, include destruction of normal, healthy body tissues and cells by radiation beams and surgery. Patients sometimes suffer from skin irritation after radiation, excessive bleeding during operation, extreme pain, loss of appetite, tiredness and body weakness (Walter, 2004).
Chemotherapy damages body proteins/DNA hence loss of hair, sore mouths, nausea, vomiting and fatigue. Some women have reported loss of fertility and alteration of the menstrual cycle pattern after chemotherapies. Replaced of cancer cells through gene therapy may not be successful and hence lead to permanent damage to body cells. Moreover, hormone therapy can lead to impotence in men, rapid weight gain, vomiting, and loss of fertility and interrupted monthly periods in female (Walter, 2004). Cancer treatments can also lead to emotional disturbances and psychological problems such as increased stress, grief of pain and loneliness.
Complications of Cancer
Complications of cancer vary depending on the stage of the tumor and health status of the individual. Some of the most common complications include psychological and emotional complications such as change in moods (mood disorders), for example, extreme depression and melancholy, grief and sorrow.
Physical complications of cancer majorly concern pain which can be caused either by the damaged tissues and injury to other body organs. Physiological complication may include spread of the cancerous cells to other body parts and organs, a process called metastasis (Porth, 2010). Other complications of cancer are erectile dysfunction in men, vaginal dryness in women, swelling of lymph nodes and increased levels of calcium in the blood among others.
Methods of Lessening Physical and Psychological Effects of Cancer
Psychological effects can be reduced by psychotherapy, family support and closure, and administration of anti-depressant drugs. Physical effects, especially pain, can be dealt with through the use of anti-inflammatory drugs such as morphine (Walter, 2004). Patients should also undergo adjuvant therapies and post-treatment remedies for cancer to reduce its physical and psychological complications.