When you hear the word cancer, it is like the end of the world. If your mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, there is a big tendency for you and the other siblings to have one in the future. Moreover if your grandfather also had a history of lung cancer, you have more chances of acquiring the disease than others if you do not have a healthy lifestyle.
Cancer has been in the world for centuries and until today, there is no known cause. People are aware of its dreaded symptoms causing discomfort for most patients. In the world, cancer is ranked as the second leading cause of death and holds responsible for an estimate of 9.6 million deaths in 2018. About 1 in 6 deaths is due to cancer and that data is indeed alarming.
What is cancer?
There are a lot of definitions of cancer and generally, it arises from the transformation of healthy, normal cells into tumor cells. Cancer is also defined by the rapid proliferation of abnormal cells in the body which then invade and spread to the other organs. A late stage of this process is called metastasizing. As medical professionals conclude, the major cause of death from cancer is metastases.
As experts still cannot pinpoint what causes cancer, aside from genetics, there are external factors which may bring about the disease. One is the physical carcinogens present in the environment such as ionizing and ultraviolet radiation. Another factor would be chemical carcinogens such as aflatoxin, arsenic, asbestos and even tobacco smoke. Lastly, certain bacteria, viruses and parasites account for biological carcinogens.
Types of cancer
Since the body is made up of a lot of cells, sometimes the abnormality occurs in groups or in a certain region/organ in the system. That’s why professionals divide cancer into different types as to its etymology.
- Carcinomas – this usually starts in the skin or tissue covering the surfaces of glands and organs. A carcinoma forms a solid tumor and regarded as the most common type of cancer. Examples of such cancer type include breast cancer, lung cancer, colorectal cancer and prostate cancer.
- Leukemias – this is the cancer of the blood. Leukemia includes chronic myeloid leukemia, acute myeloid leukemia, acute lymphocytic leukemia and chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
- Sarcomas – this cancer begins in the body tissues that connect and support the body. It develops in the muscles, nerves, blood vessels, cartilage or bones.
- Lymphomas – this cancer starts off in the lymphatic system. This type of cancer includes Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Cancer though is not limited to these types. There are still a lot which are detrimental to a person’s life. That is why it is also important to be knowledgeable about the disease.
Top cancer risks
There are a lot of risk factors associated with cancer. The main four are:
- Tobacco or cigarette use (the single most important risk factor which is responsible for over 20% of cancer related deaths in the world)
- Alcohol intake
- Unhealthy diet
- Sedentary lifestyle or inactivity
Aside from these, chronic infections also pose a high cancer risk especially in low and middle income countries in the world. Carcinogenic infections such as Hepatitis B virus, Hepatitis C virus, Epstein-Barr virus, Human papillomavirus and Helicobacter pylori. These particular infections increase the risk for a person to develop cervical and liver cancer.
Upon knowing these risks, doing some preventive strategies may help avoid a person from having cancer. One important thing to do is to vaccinate against hepatitis B virus and HPV (in women). This can actually prevent a million cancer-related cases annually. Controlling occupational hazards, as well as reducing exposure to ionizing radiation and ultraviolet radiation helps in preventing cancer.
Early detection of cancer
In most cases, a person only finds out that he or she has cancer during the latter part of life. So as most medical experts suggest, an early diagnosis will usually help a person by a great deal. Cancer, when detected early, most likely respond to treatment effectively and can even result to a higher probability of survival. Aside from that, treatment will be less expensive and morbidity rates will be lower.
When a patient knows he or she has cancer, there will be significant improvements made and delays in care will most likely be avoided. Early diagnosis of cancer entails awareness and accessing care. Another step would be to undergo a clinical evaluation, diagnosis and staging of the disease. Lastly, an early detection of cancer entails early access to treatment. Knowing these 3 components is essential because when a patient is diagnosed at a later stage, curative treatment may no longer be an option.
When a patient is screened for a specific type of cancer or pre-cancer, they are being prepared for a particular treatment option. Screening programs are more complex than early diagnosis. Several screening methods used at present are:
- HPV testing for cervical cancer
- Mammography screening for breast cancer
- PAP cytology test for cervical cancer ( middle to high income population)
- Visual inspection with Acetic acid (VIA) for cervical cancer ( low income population)
- Clinical biopsy
As most patients feel that cancer is the end of the road, there are several developments made by experts to either prolong life or even cure cancer. Another goal with treatment is to improve the quality of life of a patient. Supportive, palliative and psycho-social support is very important in this aspect.
Treatment depends mainly on which stage the cancer is. An accurate diagnosis is important so as the treatment regimen will be effective. Doctors will usually suggest to the patient one or more modalities to treat cancer. It may include radiotherapy, chemotherapy, immuno-therapy and surgery. Some specialists may also do personalized or targeted therapies which focus on a cancer’s specific proteins and genes. Maintenance therapy is also offered but patients must adhere strictly to the medications prescribed by the doctor.
As with other medications, there are inevitable side effects such as:
- Appetite Loss
- Alopecia (hair loss)
- Thrombocytopenia (bleeding)
- Fertility and sexual issues in men and women
- Memory loss
- Mouth and throat complications
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Sleeping problems
- Urinary and bladder complications
Integrative medicine is also popular among patients who need complementary therapies with standard medical treatments are combined.
There are some people who also participate in clinical trials to be able to receive treatment.
There are a lot of options doctors and patients can choose, but as with any disease, early detection often results in a high cure rate. An example would be testicular seminoma, leukemias and lymphomas in children. If there is appropriate treatment, these patients would have a better health status.
Another important option is palliative care in which its main goal is to relieve cancer symptoms rather than cure. This is done in order to improve the quality of life of patients and their families as well. These patients are usually in the advanced stages of cancer where cure seems near to impossible. Access to oral morphine is made easy for those suffering from moderate to severe pain; this is usually experienced by most cancer patients at the terminal phase. This gives them relief from physical, psycho-social and spiritual problems. There are a lot of palliative care strategies which comprise of home and community-based care in low resource settings.
Tracking Cancer with CareClinic
Cancer as a disease is already very exhausting and even changes the entire outlook of an individual having it. Aside from it being a physical burden, patients also have low morale and look at negatively in life. The belief that cancer is the end of everything puts the patient in a hopeless case. That’s why experts have come up with mobile applications that help track symptoms of cancer. CareClinic, one of the top apps for cancer patients, has been making waves already.
CareClinic is a free app for iOS and Android which also sends medication reminders to patients who need pain medicines. The app either provides pop-ups on the screen of your smartphone or vibrate when it is time to take a particular medication. It also has a chemo countdown which reminds the patient of his or her chemotherapy session. You will never miss a medication dose or chemotherapy session when using CareClinic. The app has an updated user interface which is flexible to accommodate different devices, languages and more.
Symptoms are also tracked accurately as you can also log in severity, time and date. For easy understanding, the data you type in will be transferred in the form of a graph which will then be printed for your next medical checkup. Aside from that, you will be able to get information online using the app with regards to the disease. Read journals and watch videos about cancer treatments and other latest technological advancements on treatments and therapies.
CareClinic also has a diary in which all data you put can be printed at the end of the month. This serves as a health report you may share with your doctor. The report is very important in adjusting or if your doctor needs to change your medications or type of therapy. Cancer may be a dreaded disease, but if you know how to accept and manage all symptoms, everything will be easier for you, one day at a time.
To get started tracking your health, click here to sign up for free to CareClinic.