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Cancer- Basic Facts – October 1st, 2003

Dr.S.Lakshmanan (General & Colon Rectal
Salem, Illinois ,USA.

What is cancer?

Cancer is a group of diseases characterized by uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells, if the spread is not controlled it can result in death. Cancer is caused by both outside factors such as cigarette smoking, chewing tobacco, beetle nuts with leaves, other chemicals, radiation and infectious organisms and internal factors. Growths in the body, some are benign and some are malignant. The malignant ones are called cancers. Benign tumors do not spread to any other part of the body and they are not life threatening as opposed to cancer which can spread to other parts of the body and it could be life threatening.
Can cancer be prevented?

The risks of developing some types of cancer can be reduced by changes in a person’s life style, such as, quit smoking and improving nutrition with a change in the life style factors as well as regular exercise. The cancer that is caused by cigarette smoking and heavy use of alcohol can be prevented completely. Skin cancers that are caused by exposure to the sun could be decreases by using applications of sunscreens. Regular screening examinations by healthcare professionals can result in reduction of cancer at its early stages of the following organs, breast, prostate, colon and rectum, cervix, testis, oral cavity and skin. When the treatment is started for early cancers, the success of the treatment is excellent. Cancers that can be detected by screening, that means patients who don’t have any symptoms, account for abour half of all the new cancer cases. These early cancers when they are found at its early stages and treated, the 5 year survival rate will increase o 95%, that means 95 out of 100 people can be expected to live at the end of 5 years.

Who is at risk of developing cancer?

As a matter of fact, anyone can develop cancer, some are at higher risk than the others. About 5 to 10% of cancers are hereditary, that is inherited by faulty genes, the remainder of the cancers are not hereditary but result from damage to genes hat occurs throughout our lifetime. The damage can be either due to external factors like tobacco, chemicals, alcohol and sunlight or due to internal factors such as hormones, digestion of nutrients. People who smoke have a 900% increased risk of developing lung cancer as opposed to the non-smokers.

What is the staging of cancers?

Staging is a process to describe the extent or spread of the cancer from its site or origin. They usually involve the size of the tumor and spread to the lymph glands as well as to other parts of the body.

How is cancer treated?

Treatment is cancer specific: 1. surgery 2. radiation 3. chemotherapy 4. hormone therapy 5. immunotherapy. Either they use one modality or combination of modality to improve the outcome of the cancer.
Cancer is a preventable disease. The majority of the cancers are attributable to the lifestyle behavior such as smoking, poor nutrition, lack of exercise and excessive intake of alcohol. In addition to change in lifestyle modifications, the American Cancer Society recommends following guidelines for early detection of cancer in asymptomatic patients, that means the patients who don’t have any complaints.

1. Recommendation for breast cancer:

Women 40 years and older should have a mammogram every year and clinical examination by the physician every year and monthly self breast exam. Women between the ages of 20 and 39 should have monthly self breast exam by the physician once a year.

2. Recommendation for colon and rectal cancer:

Beginning at the age of 50 to have fecal occult blood test every year and flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years, this is to visualize the lower 2 feet of the large intestine and to have a lower GI x-ray which is to visualize the remainder of the colon once in five years or to have a colonoscopy exam every 10 years.

3. Recommendation for prostate cancer:

To have a digital rectal examination by the physician annually beginning at the age of 50 and to have a p prostate antigen, which is a blood test, once a year

4. Recommendation for cervical cancer:

All women who have been sexually active and 18 years and older should have an annual Pap test and pelvic examination.
Cancer related check up is recommended every 3 years for people between the ages of 20 and 39 and every year for people over the age of 40.

In summary, cancer is a preventable disease by lifestyle modification, such as quitting smoking and chewing tobacco, proper nutrition and exercise, quit drinking excessive alcohol, to have screening examination as recommended, earlier for early detection for cancer.

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