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What is Cancer?

Cancer is a common name for a group of diseases characterised by uncontrolled proliferation of abnormal cells. Cell division is the mainstay of human life. Human body is made up of several organs like brain, lung, liver, stomach etc. and each organ is made up of cells. Organs and tissues are constituted by cells characteristic of that organ. Cells divide for growth of an organ, for repairing tissue damage and to maintain functions of the organ. The divided cells are the exact replica of the parent cell. Sometimes due to some faulty mechanism or due to factors which are unknown yet, the divided cells are abnormal i.e., their structure is not the same as that of its parent cells. They cannot discharge the functions like the normal cells but requires the same food as the normal cells. These cells start dividing and a large number of abnormal cells are produced. As a result of the proliferation of abnormal cells the body organs do not function normally and the persons nutrition is impaired rapidly. These cells cluster to form lumps, swellings, and sometimes produce ulcers in the respective organs. However in the case of blood cancer — Leukaemia – the abnormal cells start circulating throughout the blood streams so, no visible lump or swellings are observed. (Cancer is known by its different types like sarcoma, lymphoma, leukaemia, myeloma, carcinoma etc.). The most important characterisitc of cancer is that the cancer cells breakaway from the tissue or organ of origin and starts spreading to other parts of the body through lymphatic channels or cavities or blood vessels. They then deposit themselves in other parts of the body where it grows again. This is known as the metastasis. Because of this unique characterisitc it becomes difficult to cure or to control cancer when it has spread. Does a lump always mean Cancer?

Does a lump always mean cancer?

No. A lump can occur in any part of the body which may or may not contain cancer cells. Some of these lumps may grow to large sizes and produce ulcers. Because of this, they interfere with normal functions of nearby organs. However, they will not cause death and they can easily be removed by surgery and usually will not recur. They do not spread to other parts of the body. Such tumours are known as Benign tumours i.e. harmless tumours. Cancer also can occur as a lump or tumour. A cancer is known as a malignant tumour. It is characterised specially by its potential to spread to other sites and to infiltrate the organ.

Is Cancer Hereditary?

Certain cancers are seen to occur in families. This does not mean that the disease has been transmitted from parent to children through genetic material. The same life style usually run in families and this could as well be the reason. Scientists believe that if there is a hereditary component, its effect is indeed very little.

Does Smoking cause Cancer?

Smoking cigarettes is the cause of 75% of all lung cancers and 25% of all cancers in the Western countries. Smokers are also likely to develop cancer of the mouth, pharynx, oesophagus [Gullet] pancreas and urinary bladder. In our country, almost 50% of all cancer in men are caused by heavy and smoking; Tobacco smoking is also the major cause of heart disease, gastric ulcers, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and often the smoker dies young.

Due to the husband’s smoking habits, his wife [passive smoking] is also at a high risk for developing cancer of various organs. In closed environments like bus, theatre, office, train and meeting halls smoking is dangerous to non-smokers also.

Does heavy Alcohol consumption cause Cancer?

Heavy alcohol consumption especially in the presence of smoking increases the risk of certain cancers like cancer of tongue, throat, gullet, stomach and liver.

How does early diagnosis help?

When cancer has not spread beyond its site of origin a complete cure is often possible. When a cervix cancer is localised, almost 100% cure is possible but when it has spread to nearby bladder or rectum, not even 20% will live up to 5 years. Similarly, an early breast cancer when treated adequately would have a more than 85% chance of surviving more than 5 years whereas when it is spread to lungs less than 10% would survive 5 years. Thus early diagnosis ensures a better cure rate.

What are the side effects of Radiation and Chemotherapy?

First it has to be understood that all the side effects are temporary and will vanish in course of time. Depending on the site of radiation treatment, the symptoms will vary. Diarrhoea, dryness of mouth, mouth soreness, and difficulty in swallowing, loss of appetite and taste and abdominal cramps are some of the side effects due to radiation. Chemotherapeutic drugs also can cause severe discomfort. Loss of hair,  nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, anaemia are some of the severe complaints. As in the case of sickness caused by radiotherapy, the sickness caused by chemotherapy also vanishes 2 to 3 weeks after completion of treatment.