Different cells make up our body. All these cells have the potential to multiply to some limit, when tissue renewal is required, such as in injuries or tissue loss. As for example, when you get a cut and it heals. However, when the cells grow or multiply uncontrollably, creating abnormal tissue it is called neoplasia (a Greek word -meaning new creation) . And when they acquire potential to spread to other parts of the body they are called malignant (cancerous) neoplasm.
All neoplasias are not malignant. As for example, fibroids in the uterus is a benign (non-malignant) neoplasia. Benign neoplasm do not have the potency to spread and remain localized for years together and may or may not require treatment.
Every cell of the body has numerous genes which define its function. Of these genes -oncogenes, are the ones which promote tumor/growth; And tumor suppressor genes which suppress growth, are a part. These 2 types of genes are in such a balance that cancer does not occur. Though, what initiates a malignant change in cells is a subject of research, but it is well known that continuous genetic damage causes cells to mutate, i.e. either loose their tumor suppressing genes or trigger their oncogenes, hence causing uncontrolled multiplication.
A well conceptualized example is smoking, which causes continuous irritation of cells of respiratory tract which in turn cause genetic damage over a period of years, and then leading to cancer.
A common misconception that cancer is a disease of modernization sets to rest by the fact that even bones of dinosaurs’ and Egyptian mummies dating 3000 BC have also shown evidence of cancer.
Having defined cancer it is important to understand how to identify it. It is notable that no one symptom can be indicative of cancer and there is an immense degree of overlap with symptoms of infection and other disorders. An example worth mentioning is lung cancer – it is not uncommon to see lung cancers being treated for months for tuberculosis. Hence, a certain degree of suspicion is important.
Broadly speaking, symptoms that should warn us can be remembered as follows:
C – Change in bowel or bladder habits
A – A sore that does not heal
U – Unsual discharge or bleeding in (stools, vomitus, cough, urine, post coitus)
T – Thickening of a lump in breast or elsewhere
I – Indigestion or difficulty in swallowing
O – Obvious change in a wart or mole
N – Nagging cough or hoarseness of voice
U – Unexplained anemia, fever, fatigue
S – sudden , unexplained weight loss
The common cancers of males in our society with their respective symptoms are:
- Head and neck cancers – which include mouth, tongue and larynx (voice box) – present commonly with non-healing ulcers, voice change and nagging cough.
- Lung Cancer – nagging cough, increasing breathlessness, blood in sputum, weight loss.
- Esophagus (food pipe) and stomach – difficulty in swallowing, loss of appetite, early satiation and weight loss
- Prostate – difficulty and frequency in urination, chronic backache and bony pains.
- Lymphoma – painless swelling commonly neck area or anywhere including groin and armpit, fever, night sweats and weight loss.
The common cancers of females in our society are:
- Breast cancer – painless lump in breast or axilla, nipple discharge or retraction.
- Cervical cancer – post coital bleeding or chronic discharge
- Gall bladder – heaviness or pain on right side below the chest, loss of appetite and weight loss.
- Cancer of Ovaries and uterus – abnormal bleeding per vaginum, heaviness or pain in pelvis, bloating of abdomen.
- Lymphoma – painless swelling commonly neck or anywhere, fever, night sweats and weight loss.
It is imperative to remember at all times, that cancer is a reality and it can affect anyone of us. As – till you suspect it you will not detect it, until it is too late.