Basics of Cancer – Symptoms, Causes and Treatment
Cancer refers to a class of diseases affecting the healthy cells. Based on the properties of the affected cells, there are two types of cancer. They are benign and malignant. The malignant cancer cells are characterized by their nature of uncontrolled growth, intruding and destroying nearby cells and spreading to fresh locations of the body.
On the contrary, benign cells are limited to certain confinements in the body, do not invade or spread to new locations. This article tries to understand the basics of this dreadful disease.
What are the Symptoms of Cancer?
There are more than 100 types of cancer. Each of these types has their own set of unique signs apart from some common indicators. Broadly, the symptoms can be categorized under three groups. They are:
- Local Symptoms:
- Unusual lumps or tumor
Metastasis Symptoms: The technical name for spreading of the disease to fresh locations is metastasis. If the disease is diagnosed prior to this stage, it can be cured. After this stage, it becomes only treatable. Signs to look out for are:
- Coughing of blood from the lungs
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Swollen liver
- Pain in the bones
- Neurological signs
- Night sweats
- Weight loss
- Poor appetite
- Hormonal changes
- Blood clot formation in blood vessels
What are the Causes of Cancer?
Cells are the building blocks of life. They carry out all the functions in the body by following certain chemical instructions called genes. The cells have certain basic properties. One such fundamental property is cell replication, where a cell creates a copy of its own by a process called cell division. Here, a parent cell passes on its genetic instructions to two news copies of it called the daughter cells. After cell division, the parent cell dies as a part of a programmed process technically called apoptosis.
Cancer is caused when changes in the genetic material takes place (technically called as mutation) while they are transferred from parent to the daughter cells during cell division. These changes or errors are unavoidable and happen inevitably.
The errors which are few in number grow exponentially as the daughter cells in the initial stage undergoing mutation turn parent cells themselves and pass on the erroneous genetic instructions to a new bunch of cells.
In this way, cancer is a gradual process and a progressive disease. The minute errors accumulate over the time and there arrives a moment went a cell has completely erroneous set of instructions, thus behaving in a manner contrary to a normal healthy cell. In this way, a cancer cell is formed. Thus a cascade of error cells is the main cause of cancer.
Mutation can cause four types of errors leading to cancer. They are:
- Every cell has an inherent error-correcting system. When this system gets affected, errors self-amplify per cell division.
- Cells have a signaling system to communicate with each other. When mutation disrupts this system, erroneous signals are transferred between nearby cells.
- Cells grow at a particular rate. If mutation changes this pattern, then abnormal cell growth in one region can disrupt normal function of cells in remote regions too.
- Cells die their programmed death normally as per the apoptosis process. If mutation affects this process, a cancer cell can turn immortal and can become a constant and uncontrollable source of disrupting normal healthy cells forever.
Treatment of Cancer:
Prevalent treatment options of cancer are surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy. If the disease is diagnosed early, surgery removes the tumor. In chemotherapy, powerful chemicals are targeted towards the malignant chunk of cancer cells to kill them. In radiation therapy, powerful laser beams are used to kill the cancer causing cells. All these techniques have their own limitations and side effects to deal with too.