Cancer Basics

Healing is a matter of time, but it is also sometimes a matter of opportunity" - Hippocrates

One of the first step to fight back cancer is understanding it. Once a patient/care giver understands the disease, he/she is better equipped to ask the right questions, get the right treatment and fight back the disease.

This section would cover the following topics:

What is Cancer
What are the different types of Cancer
How are different stages of Cancer Described
What are the common side effects of Cancer

Cancer is the common term used for diseases when abnormal cells divide without control in our body and invade other tissues. It is not just one disease but a group of more than 100 different diseases.

Tumor vs Cancer

The word tumor simply refers to a mass. Tumor is a commonly used term when there is an abnormal new growth of tissue that grows more rapidly than normal cell and will continue to grow if not treated. These "tumor cells" compete with other adjacent cells for nutrients. Some types of cancer do not form a tumor. These include leukemias, most types of lymphoma, and myeloma.

Tumors are of two types - bengin and malignant.

  • Benign Tumor: Often these grow at one place and do not grow to other parts of the body. Treatment for them often involves surgery and typically they do not grow back post treatment.
  • Malignant Tumor: Malignant tumor are cancer i.e. they have an ability to grow and spread to other parts of the body.

Doctors divide cancer into types based on where it began. Four main types of cancer are:

Cancer Class Description
Carcinomas A carcinoma begins in the skin or the tissue that covers the surface of internal organs and glands. Carcinomas usually form solid tumors. They are the most common type of cancer. Examples of carcinomas include prostate cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer, and colorectal cancer.
Sarcomas A sarcoma begins in the tissues that support and connect the body. A sarcoma can develop in fat, muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, blood or lymph vessels, cartilage, or bone.
Leukemias Leukemia is a cancer of the blood. Leukemia begins when healthy blood cells change and grow uncontrollably. The four main types of leukemia are acute lymphocytic leukemia, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, acute myeloid leukemia, and chronic myeloid leukemia.
Lymphomas Blood cancer is a particular type of cancer that inflicts the blood, bone marrow, and the lymphatic system. Lymphoma is a cancer that begins in the lymphatic system (blood stream). The lymphatic system is a network of vessels and glands that help fight infection. There are two main types of lymphomas: Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Hodgkin's Lymphoma has 5 sub-types while non-hodgkin lymphoma has 30 sub-types
Myeloma Blood cancer is a particular type of cancer that inflicts the blood, bone marrow, and the lymphatic system. Myeloma is a type of cancer that targets the plasma cells—a component of white blood cells. In human anatomy, almost all new cells are produced by the bone marrow thus making it also the site of growth for abnormally developing plasma cells.

Often we come across various terms that are used to describe a cancer/tumor. We have listed below a list of commonly used terms and their respective meaning.

Common terms used to describe a cancer What does it mean
Advanced, that is metastatic A solid tumor that has advanced lymph nodes, tissues or organs beyond the site of origination (initial organ affected). In other words the cancer has moved or spread from one organ or tissue to another. Tumor or cancer cells usually spread via the bloodstream or the lymph system.
Localized, that is non-metastatic solid tumor that is confined to a limited locale and ha not metastatized to lymph nodes or other organs
Locoregiona Limited to a local region. most commonly used when discussing squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck (SCCHN)
Malignant Tending to produce death or deterioration. Malignant tumors tend to infiltrate, metastatize and frequently result in fatal disease
Recurrent Tumors that are know to re-grow or recurr after a point in time. This may or may not happen at the original organ affect. For example, cancer may be detected in the lung and post treatment it might recur in another body organ. The return of signs and symptoms of cancer after a period of improvement is called a relapse.
Refractory When a cancer does not respond to treatment, it is called as refractory treatment. When such a situation happens, physicians usually change treatment to another appropriate drug. This can happen at the beginning or the treatment or during the treatment
Resectable vs. Non-Resectable Resectable means the ability to remove the tumor surgically. e.g. a person might be having metastatic cancer but the tumor would be resectable (i.e. surgically operable)

Cancer and cancer treatment often cause a variety of side effects.

Important part of cancer care is relieving side effects, called symptom management, palliative care, or supportive care.

No Two patients will get the same set of symptoms. It depends on how the patients body copes with the disease and his lifestyle preferences

Side Effect Type Common Characteristics
Typical Lifestyle Changes
  • Appetite Loss
  • Constipation / Diarrhea
  • Difficulty Chewing / Difficulty Swallowing or Dysphagia
  • Dry Mouth or Xerostomia
  • Taste Changes
  • Anemia
  • Shortness of Breath or Dyspnea
  • Sudden extreme Weight Gain/loss
  • Mouth Sores or Mucositis
  • Nausea and Vomiting
Impact on Movement and agility
  • Peripheral Neuropathy
  • Pain
  • Neutropenia
  • Fatigue / Headaches /Hearing Problems
  • Dehydration
  • Blocked Intestine or Gastrointestinal Obstruction
  • Hypercalcemia
  • Osteoporosis
  • Heart Problems
Nervous System Changes
  • Nervous System Side Effects
  • Depression
  • Attention, Thinking, or Memory Problems/Mental Confusion or Delirium
  • Sleeping Problems: Hypersomnia or Somnolence Syndrome or Nightmares
  • Sleeping Problems: Insomnia
Infections and changes to body
  • Hair Loss or Alopecia
  • Dental/oral Health
    • Skin Infection / Rashes
    • Skin Reactions to Targeted Therapy and Immunotherapy
Fluid Retention
  • Bleeding Problems/Clotting Problems
  • Fluid Retention or Edema
  • Fluid Around the Lungs or Malignant Pleural Effusion
  • Fluid in the Abdomen or Ascites
  • Lymphedema

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