Cancer. The very word conjures up visions of pain and suffering. If any disease has made itself an enemy of man, it is this one. Cancer may come in many forms but its outcome has always been damaging. The medical fraternity counts cancer as its greatest foe.

Dr. Meenu Gupta

Cancer Awareness

What is Cancer?
Cancer is a term used for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and are able to invade other tissues. Cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems.
Cancer is not just one disease but many diseases. There are more than 100 different types of cancer. Most cancers are named for the organ or type of cell in which they start - for example, cancer that begins in the colon is called colon cancer; cancer that begins in basal cells of the skin is called basal cell carcinoma.
Cancer types can be grouped into broader categories. The main categories of cancer include:
  • Carcinoma : cancer that begins in the skin or in tissues that line or cover internal organs.
  • Sarcoma : cancer that begins in bone, cartilage, fat, muscle, blood vessels, or other connective or supportive tissue.
  • Leukemia : cancer that starts in blood-forming tissue such as the bone marrow and causes large numbers of abnormal blood cells to be produced and enter the blood
  • Lymphoma and myeloma : cancers that begin in the cells of the immune system
  • Central nervous system cancers : cancers that begin in the tissues of the brain and spinal cord.
All cancers begin in cells, the body's basic unit of life. To understand cancer, it's helpful to know what happens when normal cells become cancer cells.The body is made up of many types of cells. These cells grow and divide in a controlled way to produce more cells as they are needed to keep the body healthy. When cells become old or damaged, they die and are replaced with new cells.However, sometimes this orderly process goes wrong. The genetic material (DNA) of a cell can become damaged or changed, producing mutations that affect normal cell growth and division. When this happens, cells do not die when they should and new cells form when the body does not need them. The extra cells may form a mass of tissue called a tumour.
Not all tumors are cancerous; tumors can be benign or malignant. Benign tumors aren't cancerous. They can often be removed, and, in most cases, they do not come back. Cells in benign tumors do not spread to other parts of the body. Malignant tumors are cancerous. Cells in these tumors can invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body. The spread of cancer from one part of the body to another is called metastasis. Some cancers do not form tumors. For example, leukemia is a cancer of the bone marrow and blood.
What are Risk Factors for Cancer?
Doctors often cannot explain why one person develops cancer and another does not. But research shows that certain risk factors increase the chance that a person will develop cancer.
  • Growing older : The most important risk factor for cancer is growing older. Most cancers occur in people over the age of 65. But people of all ages, including children, can get cancer, too.
  • Tobacco : Tobacco use is the most preventable cause of death. Each year, more than 180,000 Americans die from cancer that is related to tobacco use. Using tobacco products or regularly being around tobacco smoke (environmental or secondhand smoke) increases the risk of cancer. Smokers are more likely than nonsmokers to develop cancer of the lung, larynx (voice box), mouth, esophagus, bladder, kidney, throat, stomach, pancreas, or cervix. They also are more likely to develop acute myeloid leukemia (cancer that starts in blood cells). People who use smokeless tobacco (snuff or chewing tobacco) are at increased risk of cancer of the mouth.
Quitting is important for anyone who uses tobacco, even people who have used it for many years. The risk of cancer for people who quit is lower than the risk for people who continue to use tobacco. (But the risk of cancer is generally lowest among those who never used tobacco.) Also, for people who have already had cancer, quitting may reduce the chance of getting another cancer.
  • Alcohol : Having more than two drinks each day for many years may increase the chance of developing cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, larynx, liver, and breast. The risk increases with the amount of alcohol that a person drinks. For most of these cancers, the risk is higher for a drinker who uses tobacco.
    People who drink should do so in moderation. Drinking in moderation means no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men.
  • Poor diet, lack of physical activity, or being overweight : People who have a poor diet, do not have enough physical activity, or are overweight may be at increased risk of several types of cancer. For example, studies suggest that people whose diet is high in fat have an increased risk of cancers of the colon, uterus and prostate. Lack of physical activity and being overweight are risk factors for cancers of the breast, colon, esophagus, kidney, and uterus.
Having a healthy diet, being physically active, and maintaining a healthy weight may help reduce cancer risk. A healthy diet includes plenty of foods that are high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. This includes whole-grain breads and cereals and 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Also, a healthy diet means limiting foods high in fat (such as butter, whole milk, fried foods, and red meat). Physical activity can help control your weight and reduce body fat. Most scientists agree that it is a good idea for an adult to have moderate physical activity (such as brisk walking) for at least 30 minutes on 5 or more days each week.
  • Family history of cancer : Most cancers develop because of changes mutations in genes. A normal cell may become a cancer cell after a series of gene changes occur. Tobacco use, certain viruses, or other factors in a person's lifestyle or environment can cause such changes in certain types of cells. Some gene changes that increase the risk of cancer are passed from parent to child. These changes are present at birth in all cells of the body. It is uncommon for cancer to run in a family. However, certain types of cancer do occur more often in some families than in the rest of the population. For example, cancers of the breast, ovary, prostate, and colon sometimes run in families. Several cases of the same cancer type in a family may be linked to inherited gene changes, which may increase the chance of developing cancers. However, environmental factors may also be involved. Most of the time, multiple cases of cancer in a family are just a matter of chance.
    If you think you may have a pattern of a certain type of cancer in your family, you may want to talk to your doctor. Your doctor may suggest ways to try to reduce your risk of cancer. Your doctor also may suggest exams that can detect cancer early. You may want to ask your doctor about genetic testing. These tests can check for certain inherited gene changes that increase the chance of developing cancer. But inheriting a gene change does not mean that you will definitely develop cancer. It means that you have an increased chance of developing the disease.
  • Certain chemicals and other substances : People who have certain jobs (such as painters, construction workers, and those in the chemical industry) have an increased risk of cancer. Many studies have shown that exposure to asbestos, benzene, benzidine, cadmium, nickel, or vinyl chloride in the workplace can cause cancer.
    Follow instructions and safety tips to avoid or reduce contact with harmful substances both at work and at home. Although the risk is highest for workers with years of exposure, it makes sense to be careful at home when handling pesticides, used engine oil, paint, solvents, and other chemicals.
  • Sunlight : comes from the sun, sunlamps, and tanning booths. It causes early aging of the skin and skin damage that can lead to skin cancer. It is best to avoid the midday sun (from mid-morning to late afternoon) whenever possible. You also should protect yourself from UV radiation reflected by sand, water, snow, and ice. UV radiation can penetrate light clothing, windshields, and windows. Wear long sleeves, long pants, a hat with a wide brim, and sunglasses with lenses that absorb UV. Sunscreen may help prevent skin cancer, especially sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. But sunscreens cannot replace avoiding the sun and wearing clothing to protect the skin. Stay away from sunlamps and tanning booths. They are no safer than sunlight.
  • Ionizing radiation : Ionizing radiation can cause cell damage that leads to cancer. This kind of radiation comes from rays that enter the Earth's atmosphere from outer space, radioactive fallout, radon gas, X-rays and other sources. Radioactive fallout can come from accidents at nuclear power plants or from the production, testing, or use of atomic weapons. People exposed to fallout may have an increased risk of cancer, especially leukemia and cancers of the thyroid breast, lung, and stomach. Radon is radioactive gas that you cannot see, smell, or taste. It forms in soil and rocks. People who work in mines may be exposed to radon. In some parts of the country, radon is found in houses. People exposed to radon are at increased risk of lung cancer. Medical procedures are a common source of radiation: Doctors use radiation (low-dose x-rays) to take pictures of the inside of the body. These pictures help to diagnose broken bones and other problems. Doctors use radiation therapy (high-dose radiation from large machines or from radioactive substances) to treat cancer. The risk of cancer from low-dose x-rays is extremely small. The risk from radiation therapy is slightly higher. For both, the benefit nearly always outweighs the small risk.
  • Some Viruses and Bacteria: Being infected with certain viruses or bacteria may increase the risk of developing cancer:
    • Human papillomaviruses (HPVs) : HPV infection is the main cause of cervical cancer. It also may be a risk factor for other types of cancer.
    • Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C viruses : Liver cancer can develop after many years of infection with hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
    • Human T cell leukemia/lymphoma virsus (HTLV-1) : Infection with HTLV-1 increases a person's risk of lymphoma and leukemia.
    • Human Immunodeficiency virus (HIV) : HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. People who have HIV infection are at greater risk of cancer, such as lymphoma and a rare cancer called Kaposi�s Sarcoma.
    • Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) : Infection with EBV has been linked to an increased risk of lymphoma.
    • Helicobacter pylori : This bacterium can cause stomach ulcers. It also can cause stomach cancer and lymphoma in the stomach lining.
    Do not have unprotected sex or share needles. You can get an HPV infection by having sex with someone who is infected. You can get hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or HIV infection from having unprotected sex or sharing needles with someone who is infected. You may want to consider getting the vaccine that prevents hepatitis B infection. Health care workers and others who come into contact with other people's blood should ask their doctor about this vaccine.
  • Certain hormones : Doctors may recommend hormones (estrogen alone or estrogen along with progestin) to help control problems (such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and thinning bones) that may occur during menopause. However, studies show that menopause hormone therapy can cause serious side effects. Hormones may increase the risk of breast cancer, heart attack, stroke, or blood clots.
    Many of these risk factors can be avoided. Others, such as family history, cannot be avoided. People can help protect themselves by staying away from known risk factors whenever possible. If you think you may be at risk for cancer, you should discuss this concern with your doctor. You may want to ask about reducing your risk and about a schedule for checkups. Over time, several factors may act together to cause normal cells to become cancerous. Having one or more risk factors does not mean that you will get cancer. Most people who have risk factors never develop cancer. Some people are more sensitive than others to the known risk factors.
What is Cancer Screening and how it helps?
Scientists have developed, and continue to develop, tests that can be used to screen a person for cancer. Many people think that the main purpose of these screening tests is to look for cancer in people who don't have any signs of the disease or to find cancer in an early, easily treatable stage. But the true goals of cancer screening are to lower the number of people who die from the disease, or eliminate deaths from cancer altogether and to lower the number of people who develop the disease
American Cancer Society has provided guidelines on cancer screening tests according to type of cancers and type of screening tests.

Breast cancer
  • Mammography (an x-ray of the breast) - Women 40 and older should have one every year.
  • Clinical breast examination (a breast examination performed by a medical professional) - Women age 20 to 40 should have one every three years. Women 40 and older should have one every year.
  • Breast self-examination- (a breast examination performed by women on their own breasts) - Women age 20 and older should perform one each month; the examination is considered "optional."
Cervical cancer
  • Pap test (cells are gently scraped from the outside of a woman's cervix and vagina and examined) - Women should have a Pap test beginning three years after becoming sexually active or beginning at age 21. A standard Pap test should be done each year, or a liquid pap test can be done every two years.
  • Pelvic exam (a doctor examines a woman's vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and sometimes the rectum - Women age 18 to 40 should have one every one to three years. Women 40 and older should have one every year
Colorectal cancer
  • Colonoscopy (this test checks the upper and lower part of the colon with a thin, lighted tube)- Men and women 50 and older should have one every 10 years.
  • Digital rectal examination- In this test, a doctor inserts a gloved finger into the rectum to feel for anything abnormal.
  • Fecal occult blood test (this test is used to detect hidden blood in stool) - Men and women 50 and older should have one every year.
Prostate cancer
  • Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test (this blood test measures the level of a marker called PSA that may detect early prostate cancer, however, high PSA levels may also indicate conditions that are not cancer) - Men 50 and older should be offered testing every year.