Cancer is also called malignancy, and it is an abnormal growth of cells in the body. It can also be said to be uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells anywhere in the body. The abnormal cells are called cancer cells, tumor cells, or malignant cells.
These cancerous cells usually infiltrate normal body tissues. Several cancers and the abnormal cells that lead to cancer tissue are further recognized by the name of the tissue that the abnormal cells originated from.
Examples include colorectal cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer, cervical cancer, and many more.
Symptoms of cancer vary depending on the type. Cancer treatment often includes radiation, chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery.
Facts and Figures
Today, there are more than 150 different types of cancers. The most common forms of cancer in the world today include skin cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, cervical cancer, and lymphoma, among others.
According to the World Health Organization, cancer is among the leading cause of death in the world today. It is estimated that 9.6 million people died from cancer in 2018.
The total annual economic cost of cancer as of 2010 was USD$1.16 trillion, and the cost seems to be rising as more people are diagnosed with cancer. The good news is that 30 to 50% of cancers could be prevented if preventive measures are considered.
According to the Kenyan Network of Cancer Organizations, 70% of the global cancer burden is in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) like Kenya.
In Kenya, cancer is the 3rd highest cause of morbidity after infectious diseases and cardiovascular diseases, as it causes 7% of deaths every year.
Approximately 39,000 new cases of cancer are reported in Kenya every year, with over 27,000 deaths per year. The leading cancers in the country are breast cancer in women (34 per 100,000) and cervical cancer (25 per 100,000). In men, prostate leads at 17 per 100,000 and esophageal at 9 per 100,000.
Cancer signs and symptoms depend on the grade and specific type of cancer. However, even though general signs and symptoms are not very specific, a few can be found in patients with different cancers.
- Weight loss
- Skin changes
- Change in bladder or bowel function
- Persistent cough or voice change
- Unusual bleeding
- Tissue masses
The main cause of cancer remains unknown, but other cancers are triggered by the environment and lifestyle or may develop from more than one cause.
Some cancers may be developmentally influenced by the genetic makeup of a person. Several patients develop cancer because of a combination of the mentioned factors.
Even though it is difficult to determine the original event or events that cause cancer to develop in a particular person, research has given clinicians many likely causes that alone or in combination with other causes are potential candidates for initiating cancer.
The major causes, although not all-inclusive because specific causes are routinely added as research advances, include:
- Ionizing radiation/Physical carcinogens: Radon, uranium, ultraviolet rays from sunlight, X-ray emitting sources, and radiation from alpha, gamma, and beta.
- Toxic or chemical compound exposures: Asbestos, benzene, cadmium, nickel, vinyl chloride, tobacco or cigarette smoke, N-nitrosamines, benzidine, aflatoxin, and asbestos.
- Pathogens/Biological carcinogens: EBV, human papillomavirus (HPV), hepatitis viruses B and C, Epstein-Barr virus, Merkel cell polyomavirus, Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV), Helicobacter pylori, Schistosoma spp., and other bacteria deemed as potential agents.
- Genetics: a few cancers have been associated with human genes that include melanoma IQ, prostate, breast, ovarian, skin, and colorectal cancers. The particular genes and other details are beyond having not been discovered yet.
Ageing is also a fundamental factor for the development of cancer. The incidence of cancer rises dramatically with age, probably due to a build-up of risks for specific cancers that increase with age.
Risk Factors for Cancers
You are at higher risk of developing cancer through:
- Tobacco use, unhealthy diet, alcohol use, and physical inactivity – they are equally risk factors for other non-communicable diseases.
- Certain chronic infections such as Helicobacter pylori, HPV, Hepatitis B and C viruses, and Epstein-Barr virus
- Other risk factors include obesity and hormones
- Infection with HIV increases the risk of cervical cancer.
Even though there are many tests used to screen and presumably diagnose cancer, the definite one is an examination of a biopsy sample of suspected cancer tissue.
Biopsy results are analyzed by the doctor to help determine the type and extent of cancer spread
Cancer staging helps doctors determine treatment protocols. Staging methods vary from one cancer type to another and shall be discussed individually in subsequent articles about specific types of cancers.
Treatment of cancer largely depends on the type and extent to which the abnormal cells are spread in the body.
- However, the majority of cancers are treated using one or more of the methods such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and combination therapy.
- Palliative therapy utilizes similar treatments described but involves medical care that focuses on reducing the symptoms. It is integrated to extend and improve quality of life of the terminally ill cancer patient.
- Several home remedies and alternative treatments exist today. They include dietary supplements, vitamins, acupuncture, green tea, grapes, and proper nutrition/vegetables, Aloe Vera, and lycopene IQ, among others.
If diagnosed in early stage and treatment initiated immediately, cancer is curable. However, it is important to prevent it by embracing best practices. These practices are the exact opposite of the risk factors mentioned above.
Search for specific cancer types on this website to find out more about their symptoms, causes, and treatment. For more information on treatment, speak to a doctor, or get access to a hospital near you through the Uzima Health App.