Cancer

Cancer

Cancer defined 

Your cells are the building blocks that make up your body. Your body will create cells that are new when needed and replace old ones when they perish. Healthy cells have a lifecycle of a specific time. Sometimes, something can go wrong with the process, due to mutations or changes in the DNA, and your cells start to replace themselves when they do not need to, creating new cells when old ones haven’t died yet.

These cells then form a mass of cells that is called a tumour. Tumours are either malignant or benign. Malignant tumours are always known to be cancerous, whilst benign tumours are not. Benign tumours grow in only one place and do not spread or invade other parts of your body. They are still dangerous as they are able to put pressure on vital body organs. Malignant tumours invade nearby tissue in your body and can separate and move to other areas of your body. However, cancers of the blood, such as leukaemias, do not generally form solid tumours.  

Cancer is the umbrella term for the group of diseases caused by the rapid division of the abnormal cells in your body spreading to other organs and tissue. Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide.  

There are over 100 cancer types, the following article will discuss the most common. Please note that this article is intended to be used only as a guideline and not as a professional opinion. It is always best to consult with a doctor or health care professional for that.  

The difference between normal and cancer cells

Normal and cancer cells are different from each other. Cancer cells are able to grow uncontrollably and invade the body, normal cells are controlled and have specific orders to follow. A vital differentiating factor of cancer cells is that they are not as specialised as normal cells, to further explain this, cancer cells do not develop into specifically distinct types of cells with specified functions, whereas normal cells do, this is a reason why cancer cells can divide and not stop. Cancer cells will ignore all signs telling them to stop or begin the development of PSD (programmed cell death), known as apoptosis. A process which usually helps the body rid itself of unwanted cells.  

Normal cells can be influenced by cancer cells, blood vessels and molecules that are surrounding or feeding a tumour – being the microenvironment. Cancer cells are even able to influence other cells to create blood vessels to supply tumours with nutrients and oxygen that is vital for the growth of the tumour. Forming blood vessels to aid in the removal of waste from the tumour.  

Cancerous cells can also hide themselves in not allowing the body's system of immunity to recognise them as a threat, the immune system is the structure of organs and tissues that aid in protection against possible infection as well as other invasive and threatening conditions which may lead to diseases. Cancer can also influence this defence system to not kill the cancer cells and then use the immune system to thrive and multiply.

The causes of cancer  

Being a disease that is genetic, cancer is the result of changes to our genes that are responsible for our cells functionality and how they divide and grow. These genetic changes are usually passed down from parents to their children or arise due to environmental factors. 

These factors include:  

  • Exposure to ultraviolet rays of the sun
  • Exposure to carcinogens and other cancer-causing chemicals
  • Exposure to radiation
  • Certain strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV)and other viruses 
  • Tobacco products and smoking
  • Lifestyle habits and choices such as levels of physical activity and dietary choices 

It is important to note that each cancer sufferer has a particular genetic makeup of the changes to their genes. Even as the cancer grows, the genetic changes may differ from someone with the same type of cancer.  

The ‘driver’ genes of cancer 

There are certain genetic changes, or rather factors, that add to cancer and are known to influence a total of three main gene types. These genetic factors or changes are often referred to as cancer ‘drivers’:  

  1. Proto-oncogenes

These types of genes form part of the division and growth of normal cells. When proto-oncogenes are changed or altered in some way, the cells can become cancer cells, transforming the genes into oncogenes (cancer-causing) – allowing the cells to multiply and live when they shouldn't be. 

  1. Tumour suppressor genes 

These genes also form a part in the growth and multiplication of normal cells. When these genes are altered, they are unable to stop the cells from multiplying, resulting in the formation of tumours through uncontrollable cell growth.  

  1. DNA reparational or repair genes 

The name says it all for these genes, they are responsible for the fixing of damaged or broken DNA cells. Cells with these genes who undergo mutations often form mutations in additional genes. These mutations acting together may cause cancerous cells.  

Scientists continue to research and learn more and more regarding molecular changes in our bodies associated with cancer. Discovering that there are certain mutation occurrences of the genes that occur commonly in a variety of kinds of cancer. Therefore, cancers can sometimes be grouped accordingly to the genetic mutations types that are driving them, they are also grouped according to where they occur and what the cells look like under a microscope.  

The growth of advanced cancer and metastasis 

Overview of metastatic cancer – the spread of cancer 

As previously discussed, cancer is the breaking away of abnormal cells growths in order to invade different places in the body. They move away from their first formation site (primary cancer). This spread is referred to as metastasis, describing the process of the cancerous cells spreading to new areas in the body, usually through the lymph system or bloodstream. 

When the cells reach their new destination, they form new tumours, known as metastatic tumours in various places in the body. This tumour that is metastatic and the primary tumour are both the same cancer type. For example, if breast cancer travels to the lungs, it is metastatic breast cancer and not lung cancer. Metastatic cancer is considered advanced cancer.  

Simply put, metastatic cancer is when cancer has moved or spread from its place of origin to a different part of the body.  

Mutations and DNA 

We mentioned earlier that the cells start to change due to a change or mutation in one’s DNA, to further explain this, it helps to know a little bit about what DNA is. DNA exists in every single cell and lives in the individual genes of the cell.  DNA serves as the instructor to the cell, telling it when to divide, what functions to perform and how to grow. Mutations are a common occurrence in DNA, but mostly cells can correct the mutations themselves, if these mistakes are not or cannot be corrected, the cells can become cancerous.  

The lymphatic system and the spread of cancer 

Mutations often cause a cell at the end of its lifecycle to survive instead of perishing and being replaced, and new cells are often formed when they are not needed. This is when tumours form. Malignant tumours are cancerous as they divide and invade other parts of the body. Metastatic cancer occurs when cancer cells move through the blood stream or lymphatic system. Lymph nodes, being a part of the lymphatic system, are bean-like glands throughout the body, where the immune cells reside.  

The lymph system carries lymph fluid, waste material and nutrients between the bloodstream and the body tissues. This is an important part of the immune system, being the body’s defence against infection and diseases.  

Metastatic cancer / metastatic tumours types 

Metastatic cancer or a metastatic tumour is harder to treat and is often more fatal as it is considered to be more advanced cancer, having spread through the lymphatic or blood system from the primary site of where it started to different areas in the body. Tumours that have formed from the spread cells are known as secondary tumours.  

These secondary tumours are formed from either regional metastasis cancer, which is when the cancer cells have spread to areas near the primary site, or from distant metastasis, which is when the cancer cells have spread to places in the body that are further away.  

Metastatic cancer outlook  

Treatment is often undergone to aid in improving and prolonging the life of someone with cancer that is metastatic and in helping to reduce the growth and spread of the cells, and also relieve the symptoms. However, metastatic cancer often causes serious damage to vital organs and most patients who pass away because of cancer, do so as a result of a metastatic disease.  

Noncancerous tissue changes  

Not all changes in the body’s tissues are cancerous. There are certain tissue changes that may form into cancer when left untreated. Before cells become cancerous, they undergo changes called hyperplasia and dysplasia. However, if these stages of change are monitored and possibly treated, they may not develop into cancer. They are explained below: 

Hyperplasia 

This happens when tissue cells divide at a faster pace than normal, creating a build-up of extra cells. What is difficult, is that the tissue structure and cells appear normal when looking through a microscope. This type of noncancerous change is normally the result of a number of conditions such as chronic inflammation or the imbalance of female hormones, which is seen in the case of endometrial (the uterine lining) hyperplasia, which is commonly found in post-menopausal women.

Dysplasia 

This is more serious than hyperplasia, however, it also refers to a build-up of cells. In this case, the cells appear abnormal. The more the cells appear to be abnormal, the higher the chance is of cancer forming.

Certain kinds of dysplasia are able to be treated and monitored. Dysplastic nevus is a type of dysplasia, being an abnormal skin mole. This can develop into skin cancer (melanoma), however, most cases don't. Another example of this is known as Barret's oesophagitis. This is when the normal cells of the oesophagus become abnormal, or they undergo dysplasia due to continuously untreated exposure to acidic gastric fluid from acid reflux. 

Commonly searched cancer types  

Common classifications 

There are certain clinical terms for the general types of cancer, these being:  

  • Carcinoma is a cancer which starts in the tissue that lines the organs or in the skin.  
  • Sarcoma is a cancer which is cancer of the connective tissues such as muscles, bones, cartilage and blood vessels. 
  • Lymphoma and myeloma cancers which are cancers of the immune system.  
  • Leukaemia, which is cancer of the bone marrow.  

With over 100 types of cancer in existence, it is too extensive a list to name and describe them all. The following provides an overview of the most commonly searched and diagnosed cancers: 

Bladder cancer   

The bladder is a hollow organ, situated in the lower part of the abdomen that holds urine that is passed out of the body.  

Transitional cell carcinoma is the commonly found form of bladder cancer. It starts in the urothelial cells in the lining of the bladder that are able to stretch and move with the amount of urine in the bladder, these cells arise from squamous cells. This type of cancer is known as urothelial carcinoma, however, it is also referred to as squamous cell carcinoma, which are the flat cells lining the bladder wall. Another type is adenocarcinoma (which begins in the cells that release and produce mucus and other fluids).

If you smoke, you may have a higher risk of developing bladder cancer. Exposure to certain chemicals, including beryllium, asbestos, benzene, vinyl chloride, and arsenic are examples of human carcinogens which are believed to cause cancer in humans. There is also a parasite infection that can affect the bladder caused by bilharzia that is thought to be associated with high risk of bladder cancer.

The most prevalent sign of bladder cancer is blood in your urine. If diagnosed early, it can be easier to treat.   

Breast cancer 

The most common kind of breast cancer is ductal carcinoma, here the cancer begins in the cells of the milk ducts.  

To put this into perspective, it is best to explain that your breast consists of glands referred to as lobules. Lobules make milk, the milk ducts, which are thin tubes, transport the milk from the production site within the lobules to the nipple. Your breast tissue also contains connective tissue and fat, blood vessels and lymph nodes. Breast cancer may start in the cells of the lobules as well as other breast tissues.  

Ductal carcinoma occurs when cells that are normally found inside the ducts’ lining, become abnormal and are consequently found outside of the ducts. 

Breast cancer is considered invasive when the disease spreads from its site of origin in the ducts or lobules to the tissue surrounding theseInflammatory breast cancer is when the breasts become red and swollen and feel warm due to the fact that the cancer cells have blocked the lymph vessels in the skin, causing inflammation.  

Although it is a more common occurrence in women, men are also at risk of developing breast cancer.  

Colon and rectal cancer - colorectal cancer  

This type of cancer is found in the rectum or colon. These are part of the large bowel (large intestine), being the lower area of the digestive system. When your body digests food, it passes through the stomach and small bowel (intestine) and then through the colon. Your colon is responsible for absorbing nutrients and water that the body needs. The rest is stored as waste in the form of a stool. The stool passes from the colon and through the rectum where it will leave the body when you go to the toilet.  

The majority of cancers that are colorectal in nature originate in the cells that are responsible for making and releasing fluids and mucus, these types of cancer are called adenocarcinomas. 

Colorectal cancer may starts as a polyp (abnormal growth), that often forms on the inside walls of the rectum or colon. Over time these may develop into cancer, the location and removal of these growths will prevent cancer from developing in future.  

Colonoscopies and faecal occult blood tests, which checks for blood in the stool, have decreased the number of deaths due to this type of cancer.  

Endometrial cancer – uterine cancer  

The uterus is the hollow organ where the foetus grows when a woman is pregnant. Most uterine cancers begin in the endometrium, which is the inner lining of the uterus, these are known as endometrial cancer. Most endometrial types of cancer are adenocarcinomas.  

There are certain inherited conditions that can increase your risk of developing this type of cancer. Obesity is also a risk factor as well as taking the hormone oestrogen without balancing it out with the hormone progesterone. Radiation therapy of the pelvis can also increase your risk, as well as taking tamoxifen for breast cancer.  

The most common sign of endometrial cancer is unusual vaginal bleeding.

If detected early enough, endometrial cancer may be cured, however uterine sarcoma, a less common type of uterine cancer, is harder to cure.  

Kidney (renal cell) cancer 

Your kidneys' job is to clean the waste out of your body and create urine. The kidneys also make hormones that regulate blood pressure and tell the bone marrow when red blood cells are needed.  

Kidney cancer is divided into three types. The first being renal cancer, which is the most prevalent type in adults, the second being Wilms tumours which are the most prevalent type in children. These types are formed in the tissue that makes urine in the kidneys. Transitional cell cancer is known as the third type and this forms in the ureter and in the renal pelvis in adults. 

Smoking and taking prolonged doses of pain medication can increase your risk of developing kidney cancer. Some studies have shown that hypertension, diabetes and hormonal involvement in women who have been pregnant a number of times, may be associated with a higher risk of developing renal carcinoma.

It is important to keep in mind that kidney tumours may be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous).  

Leukaemia  

Leukaemias are cancers that have formed in bone marrow tissue that is responsible for blood-forming. They don't form tumours that are solid, instead, they result in large amounts of leukocytes, being white blood cells increasing in the bone marrow, resulting in the other blood cells that are abnormal being overruled. This often makes it difficult for oxygen to get to the tissues in the body, as well as creating difficulty in controlling bleeding or fighting infections – thus weakening the body’s immune system.  

White blood cells are responsible for helping the body to fight infections when they develop abnormalities or are damaged in some way, they are unable to protect the body against foreign invaders, crowding out the healthy blood cells. White blood cells are the most common cells mutating to form cancer, however, red blood cells, responsible for carrying oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body as well as platelets - cells that clot the blood, may also develop into cancer.  

Leukaemia is the most prevalent cancer in children younger than 15 years of age and occurs commonly in adults over the age of 55.  

It can be acute or chronic. In acute cases, it is fast-acting and grows quickly, progressing as it grows. Chronic cases are slower acting and grow at a slower pace compared to acute cases. The treatment is dependent on the type of blood cell that is affected and whether the case is acute or chronic.  

Liver and bile duct cancer  

The liver is a very important organ of the body as it cleans the blood of toxins, creates bile which helps to digest fat, creates and stores sugar for energy and creates substances that aid in the blood being able to clot.  

The most prevalent type of liver cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma – occurring in the tissue of the liver.

Being rarer in children and teenagers, there are two types of liver cancers that can be found in children, namely hepatoblastoma and hepatocellular cancer.  

Bile duct cancer is also known as intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma. The bile ducts are tubes that carry the bile between the gallbladder, liver and the intestine. Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma begins in the bile ducts inside the liver (hence “intra”, the Latin word for “on the inside”), when bile duct cancer begins in the bile ducts outside this liver it is known as extrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (“extra” meaning “outside”) – this type being more common than intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma.  

Lung cancer  

Your lungs are your breathing organs, supplying the body with oxygen when you breathe in and sending out carbon dioxide when you breathe out. There are two predominant forms of lung cancer, these being small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. These are determined based on what the cells look like through a microscope. Non-small cell lung cancer is the more common of the two.  

Most cases of lung cancer are caused by smoking, this includes those who have been exposed to second-hand smoke. Patients with lung cancer are often not cured by current treatments. 

Melanoma (skin) cancer  

Our skin is our layer of protection against the sun, heat, infection and injury. It also stores water and fat and controls body temperature. Skin cancer is the most common cancer and is usually formed where the skin has been exposed to sunlight, but it can occur on any place on the body.  

Your skin has many layers, like an onion, starting with the outer layer being the epidermis – this is made up of a variety of cells which help to perform certain functions. There are a few different types of skin cancers which are categorised based on the cells that have been affected.  

Melanoma is more aggressive than the majority of skin cancer types when it goes undetected and is not diagnosed in the early stages, it can progressively spread to other parts of the body. Melanoma is the leading cause of death in skin cancer patients.  It is therefore exceptionally important to continually examine your skin and have any changes in the appearance of moles and spots checked by your doctor or dermatologist. It is advisable to be suspicious of any moles that show changes in colour, are different shades of black, grey or brown and change shape in any way, especially if they are newly developed.

Lymphoma cancer  

This type of cancer starts in the lymph system – being the part of the body that helps to fight infection as it is part of the immune system. Lymph tissue is found throughout the body, therefore lymphoma can start practically anywhere. 

There are two main types of lymphoma, these being Hodgkin lymphoma (formerly known as Hodgkin’s disease) and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) – occurring in both adults and children.  

The classic type is Hodgkin lymphoma If detected early, it can usually be cured. With this type, abnormal and large white blood cells in the lymph nodes called Reed-Sternberg cells, begin to build up and spread, compromising the body’s ability to fight infection.  

There are a variety of types of NHL that form from all the different types of white blood cells. Most types of this cancer start from B-cells, one of the types of white blood cells. NHL can be slow-growing (indolent) or fast-growing (aggressive).  

The treatment and cure for these types of cancers are based on the stage and type of lymphoma.  

Pancreatic cancer 

The pancreas is located behind the stomach. The pancreas consists of two types of cells. The exocrine cells create enzymes that help the small bowel (intestine) with the digestion of food, as well as endocrine cells which are also known as the islet cells of the pancreas. The latter cells of the pancreas are responsible for producing hormones such as insulin and glucagon, these play a vital role in controlling the blood sugar levels. This is where the neuroendocrine tumour cells of the pancreas arise.

The majority of pancreatic cancers are formed in the exocrine cells as tumours and don't show symptoms of their appearance, making it difficult for early detection and diagnosis. Patients with this cancer are often not cured due to its often late discovery.  

Prostate cancer 

The prostate gland produces fluid used that plays a role in the formation of semen. After skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer in men and is the leading cause of death amongst cancers. Most cases of prostate cancer are as a result of adenocarcinomas (cancer formed in the glandular cells of the epithelial tissue that has the potential to affect other organs) and often does not show early symptoms – making early detection difficult. When it becomes advanced it may result in men having a higher urination rate or experiencing a weaker urination flow – however, these symptoms may also be the result of benign prostate conditions.  

Prostate cancer is indolent (causing little or no pain) and the majority of males with this cancer are usually above the age of 65 and if treated early survive the disease. 

It is always important to talk to your doctor about prostate cancer risks and if you will need PSA (Prostate-specific antigen) screening tests or a DRE (Digital Rectal Exam).  

Thyroid cancer 

Your thyroid gland is at the bottom of your throat and near your windpipe. It creates hormones that aid in controlling your heart rate, temperature, weight and blood pressure. The four types of thyroid cancer are, papillary, medullary, follicular and anaplastic (hard to cure with current medications and treatments available). Of the four, papillary thyroid cancer is the most prevalent. 

Having specific genetic conditions such a medullary thyroid cancer in your family can increase your risk of thyroid cancer, as well as radiation exposure to the neck and head at a young age.  

Common cell cancer types 

As previously mentioned, there are over 100 cancer types. They are normally named according to the organs they affect or the areas they form in. Cancer types may also describe the types of cells that formed the cancer, such as a squamous cell (a form of skin cell) or cells that line hollow organs and glands – helping to protect or enclose organs, also refers to the cells that make up the outer layer of the body, known as epithelial cells.  

The following lists some of the categories of cancer in the specific cell types:  

Carcinoma  

These are the often the most prevalent types of cancer. Epithelial cells form these types of cancer. These are the cells, as mentioned above, that are responsible for covering the outer and inner surface areas of the body.  

Carcinomas that starts in varying epithelial cell kinds have specified names: 

Adenocarcinoma, being a type of cancer that develops in the fluid-producing epithelial cell types. Tissues such as these are known as glandular tissues. The majority of cancers of the colon, prostate and breast are often adenocarcinomas.  

Basal cell carcinoma starts in the epidermis lower layer, or basal layer, which is the outside layer of a person's skin. It first appears as a small bump, looking like a flesh coloured mole that doesn’t seem to go away. These little growths can sometimes be darker in colour or be pink or red patches that are scaly. Check with your doctor should you notice any of these on your body. 

Squamous cell carcinoma (sometimes called epidermoid carcinomas) develops in the squamous cells, this is where the epithelial cells lie just under the outer skin surface. These types of cells also occur in other organs such as the lungs and bladder. They look a lot similar to the scales of fish when looked at through a microscope.  

Transitional cell carcinoma develops in epithelial tissue types known as urothelium or transitional epithelium. This type of tissue can be formed in the bladder lining, uterus and parts of the kidney as well as some other organs. It is made up of tiny layers of epithelial cells that vary in size. It forms a few of the cancers of the uterus, bladder and kidneys.  

Sarcoma  

These types of cancers form in the soft tissues and bone such as muscle, fat, lymph vessels, fibrous tissue and lymph vessels.  

Other types of cell cancers that start in specific cell types are listed below, some of these have previously been mentioned under common cancer types, others will have their own articles linked:  

  • Leukaemia 
  • Lymphoma
  • Multiple Myeloma 
  • Melanoma
  • Brain and spinal cord tumours 

Common cancer treatments  

Treatment is symptomatic and dependent on how advanced the cancer is and what type it is. There are many types of treatment, but these are the common treatments for cancer types: 

Surgery  

Cancer surgery

Surgery is used when cancer can be removed from the body and occurs in the form of a solid tumour contained in one area. The patient will be anaesthetised so as to not feel anything during surgery and the surgeon will normally use a scalpel or a sharp knife to remove the tumour. Surgeons try not to cut the tumour itself, but instead, will cut around it in order to carefully remove it. Cutting the actual tumour may result in seeding, this is where tumour pieces spill into the body and cause the cancer to spread. This may involve cutting through skin, muscle and in some cases, bone.  

This can be a painful procedure to recover from and is dependent on the size and depth of the cut and cancerous tumour removed.  

Other types of surgery have different surgical procedures that do not involve incisions through the use of a scalpel, these include the use of lasers and even liquid nitrogen. Some types of surgery are minimally invasive, where only a few small cuts need to be made.  

Radiation therapy  

This can also be called radiotherapy, is a form of cancer treatment that entails using high doses of radiation in an attempt to kill the cancer cells and shrink the tumours. Radiation therapy is known to cure or ease cancer symptoms.  

Radiation does not kill the cancer cells immediately, it may take weeks of treatment for the cancer cells to start to die and continue to do so months after the radiation therapy has ended. It is used to treat a variety of types of cancer, however, it is often paired with other treatments, these being surgery and chemotherapy.  

It can be used before surgery to shrink the cancer, during surgery to directly impact the cancer without passing through the skin and even after surgery to kill off any remaining cancer cells. 

With advances in medicine, a new form of radiosurgery has been developed. Gamma Knife Radiosurgery, despite the name, it is in fact not a surgery at all and does not involve an actual knife. It is a very precise and accurate form of therapeutic radiology.  It uses beams of gamma rays that are precisely targeted to treat small to medium sized lesions or tumours that are normally found in the brain. It gives an intense dose of radiation without having to make a surgical incision. It is a one-session radiation treatment and the effects occur slowly over a long period of time. It is not for those who need immediate results or therapy. It is used for more than just treating cancer, and is also used as a treatment for neurological conditions like trigeminal neuralgia.  

Chemotherapy 

Woman receiving chemotherapy

This is a type of cancer treatment that uses drugs to kill the cancer cells. It works by stopping and/or slowing the growth of cancer cells by preventing them from continuing to grow and progressively divide. It has been known to cure cancer or shrink tumours and lessen their side effects.  

It is used to treat a variety of cancer types and can be used alone or with other treatments to help them to be more effective.  

In killing fast-growing cancer cells it also kills healthy cells that grow and divide quickly such as your cells lining your intestines and mouth and the cells that cause your hair to grow. You may also experience nausea, hair loss and a sore mouth, amongst other side effects.   

Immunotherapy 

This type of cancer treatment helps your immune system to fight cancer, it is a biological therapy which uses substances made from living organisms. It is not as widely used as chemotherapy, radiation or surgery, but immunotherapies have been approved to treat people with many different types of cancer.  

There are a variety of types of immunotherapy, one such being monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) therapy. This set of drugs are used to trigger an immune system response to cancer cells and can even mark the cancer cells in order for them to be found and destroyed. This type of immunotherapy can also be referred to as targeted therapy.    

Hormone therapy 

This type of therapy is used to slow down and stop the cells of cancer that use hormones to grow. It is also known as hormone treatment, hormonal therapy and endocrine therapy. The types of this therapy fall into two broad groups – those that are able to stop the body’s ability to produce hormones and those that interfere with the way that hormones behave in our bodies.  

It is used to treat those suffering from breast and prostate cancer as these types of cancer use hormones to grow, it can also be used alongside other cancer treatments.  

Stem cell transplants 

Stem cells are cells that have the ability to give rise to a variety of different cells in the body. They can develop into specialised cells and are known as the foundation cells for every organ and tissue in the body. They are basically where all the other cells ‘stem’ from.  

Stem cell transplants are procedures that are able to restore the blood-forming stem cells in cancer patients who have had theirs destroyed due to a high dose of chemotherapy or radiation.  

Blood forming cells are vital for the body as they grow into different types of blood cells, namely, white blood cells which help your body to fight infection, red blood cells which carry oxygen through the body and platelets which help the blood to clot. 

They do not normally work directly against cancer but instead help your body to recover from high doses of treatments. Most people who receive this type of treatment have lymphoma or leukaemia.  

Precision medicine  

Precision medicine, also known as personalised medicine, is used to treat patients who have the same genetic change in their cancer cells, grouping them together for the same medication purely dependent on their cell mutation type and not the cancer type.  

What are the stages of cancer?  

Categorising cancer in stages helps to define where the cancer is located if it has spread and where and what body parts have been affected. 

Tests conducted by doctors are done in order to define the stage of the cancer, this helps in planning treatment, estimating the chance or reoccurrence of the cancer after treatment, predicting the chances of success of treatment, explaining the diagnosis in an easy way to understand, and comparing larger populations who have the same diagnosis to be able to research new and more effective treatment methods.  

Stage 0 

This stage describes the cancer in its situation, or ‘in-situ’, this means where it is found when it starts to spread, its primary position. The cancer cells are identified according to their place of origin. But, the cancerous tumour is yet to spread to tissue nearby. When detected at stage 0, the prognosis is generally positive and the treatment, if necessary, may involve preventative surgical intervention combined with eating a healthy diet with no processed foods and boosting your immune system in an attempt to prevent the cancer from developing.  

 Stage 1 

This is when a small and cancerous tumour has spread to nearby tissue, but it has not travelled further than this and has not gone into the blood stream or lymph system. This can also be referred to as early stage cancer, and with traditional care and protocol, at this stage, the prognosis is normally good. 

Natural treatments such as health and lifestyle may be taken into account and adapted accordingly.

If you are diagnosed with stage one cancer, speak to your doctor and dietitian about medical treatment options and an eating plan and lifestyle changes that you may need to make to help fight the cancer and prevent its reoccurrence. 

Stage 2 and 3 

These stages are referred to as the cancers that have ‘regionally spread’. This means that the cancer has spread and embedded itself in nearby tissue. The cancer has also entered the bloodstream which may lead to the detection of cancer in the lymph system. It is crucial to boost the immune system at this point as the lymphatic system may be deteriorating and this system is the body’s natural system of defence against infection. 

Boosting the immune system may help to kill cancer cells if they are able to be detected.  At this stage, killing the cancer may not be as easy as attempting to boost the immune system. It is therefore important that you seek the medical care of a specialist to determine what the best form of treatment is based on  the type of cancer and stage of progression.

These stages call for concern, however, since the cancer has not moved to other organs of the body, there is still hope for a full recovery through treatment.  

Stage 4 

This is referred to as the ‘distant spread’ of cancer as the cancer cells have moved to other vital organs in the body from their place of origin. Stage four cancer can also be called advanced cancer or metastatic cancer. It is often more difficult to treat and the outcome can sometimes be bleak, but sometimes the patient is able to recover. Treatment and lifestyle changes are vital at this stage.  

Many forms of cancer are life-threatening and can be left undetected for a long period of time. It is always important to speak to your doctor about possible screening tests based on your health and family history. 

The most common screening tests for women are often annual breast ultrasounds (for women younger than 45) and mammograms (usually in women aged 45 to 50 and older) to test for breast cancer, as well as pap smears to test for cervical cancer.

Men can also be screened for prostate cancer from age 40 onwards. 

There are a number of cancer screening tests available and speaking to your healthcare professional will help in giving you direction about which tests to take according to your family history, possible symptoms and diagnosis.  

Some more questions you may have about cancer 

How many types of cancer are there?  

There are over 100 types of cancer. They are categorised by their abnormal cell growth and place of origin. For example, lung cancer begins in the lungs.  

Is there a cure for cancer?  

As yet, there is not one single treatment to cure all of the different kinds of cancer. There is ongoing research to try and find a cure for cancer. However, certain treatments are available which aid in destroying the cancer cells or lessening symptoms and prolonging the life expectancy of the sufferer, depending on the stage of their cancer.  

Why is there no cure for cancer?  

Cancer is caused by the cells in the body mutating and growing, they lose their ability to control their growth and therefore spread uncontrollably. Cells that are at the end of their life cycle don’t die and new cells are then made for no reason, resulting in the production of too many cells which can group together and form cancerous tumours, also known as malignant tumours.  

The body then battles to differentiate between normal cells and cancer cells, and it is, therefore, difficult to find a drug that can directly target the cancer cells.  

What are the most curable types of cancer?  

Colon cancer, breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer and lung cancer are able to be cured when detected within the first two stages of the cancer growth, meaning that the tumour has not spread distinctly. 

Disclaimer - MyMed.com is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition or illness or act as a substitute for professional medical advice.