Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body. Cancer develops when the body’s normal control mechanism stops working. Old cells do not die and instead grow out of control, forming new, abnormal cells. These extra cells may form a mass of tissue, called a tumor. Some cancers, such as leukemia, do not form tumors.
What are the most common forms of cancer?
Cancer may occur anywhere in the body. In women, breast cancer is one of the most common. In men, it’s prostate cancer. Lung cancer and colorectal cancer affect both men and women in high numbers.
There are five main categories of cancer:
§ Carcinomas begin in the skin or tissues that line the internal organs.
§ Sarcomas develop in the bone, cartilage, fat, muscle or other connective tissues.
§ Leukemia begins in the blood and bone marrow.
§ Lymphomas start in the immune system.
§ Central nervous system cancers develop in the brain and spinal cord.
How is cancer treated?
Treatment options depend on the type of cancer, its stage, if the cancer has spread and your general health. The goal of treatment is to kill as many cancerous cells while reducing damage to normal cells nearby. Advances in technology make this possible.
The three main treatments are:
§ Surgery: directly removing the tumor
§ Chemotherapy: using chemicals to kill cancer cells
§ Radiation therapy: using X-rays to kill cancer cells
The same cancer type in one individual is very different from that cancer in another individual. Within a single type of cancer, such as breast cancer, researchers are discovering subtypes that each requires a different treatment approach.
What can you do to manage the side effects of cancer treatment?
Supportive care services describe a broad range of therapies designed to combat side effects and maintain well-being. Treating cancer requires focusing on more than the disease alone; it must also address the pain, fatigue, depression and other side effects that come with it.
Supportive care services include:
§ Nutrition therapy to help prevent malnutrition and reduce side effects
§ Naturopathic medicine to use natural remedies to boost energy and reduce side effects
§ Oncology rehabilitation to rebuild strength and overcome some of the physical effects of treatment
§ Mind-body medicine to improve emotional well-being through counseling, stress management techniques and support groups
What does the future hold for cancer treatment?
The future of cancer treatment lies in providing patients with an even greater level of personalization. Doctors are beginning to offer treatment options based on the genetic changes occurring in a specific tumor.
An innovative new diagnostic tool, the genomic tumor assessment, examines a patient’s tumor genetically to identify the mechanism that caused the cancer. Genomic tumor assessment may result in a more personalized approach to cancer treatment.