Understanding Cancer

Cancer is a disease that occurs due to uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells and can spread to the surrounding area. The initial symptoms of cancer may not be very significant, so the disease is often only detected when it is in an advanced stage.

This disease can occur in any part of the body. Normally, human cells grow and reproduce through a process called cell division.

Cell division functions to form new cells according to the body’s needs. When old cells become old or damaged, they die and are replaced by new cells.

However, sometimes the replacement process is damaged and does not work as it should.

As a result, these cells grow abnormally and reproduce when this process should not occur.

The cells then form tumors or lumps of tissue, which can be malignant or not (benign). The metastatic process can occur when cells attack the surrounding tissue.

Benign tumors do not spread to nearby tissues. When doctors remove them, the harmless masses usually do not grow back. Meanwhile, malignant tumors sometimes grow back.

However, benign tumors can sometimes appear in quite large sizes. Some cases can be life-threatening, such as benign tumors in the brain.

Causes of Cancer

The main cause of this condition is changes (mutations) in genes in cells. However, the process is not necessarily always perfect.

When cells divide, there is a risk that the new cells from the division will contain damaged genes or multiply too much.

This is called a gene mutation, the sign of which is a change in the structure of the gene. Gene mutations have the potential to cause cancer if they occur more than five times and involve different genes.

The process takes years to divide and form quite large cancer cells.

At that time, new symptoms begin to appear and disease cells will appear when the body is examined.

If this disease occurs in children, the gene damage has occurred in the womb or at birth. This disease can even attack the fetus in the womb.

Risk Factors

Before knowing the symptoms of cancer, you should know that in general there are two factors that cause cancer that most often occur, namely internal and external factors.

Internal risk factors occur if a person has hereditary or family history.

Meanwhile, external factors occur if a person has the following conditions:

Hormonal changes in the body.
Over 65 years old.
Consuming excessive alcohol, smoking, excessive sun exposure, obesity, and engaging in unsafe sex.
Suffering from ulcerative colitis , which is inflammation of the colon.
Frequent exposure to dangerous chemicals, such as asbestos and benzene.

Cancer Symptoms

Recognizing the symptoms of cancer is very important so that the disease can receive early treatment.

Treatment works effectively early, when the tumor is still small and has not spread.

Here are some symptoms of cancer that you need to be aware of:

1. Pain

This is the most common symptom. People with this type of bone cancer can experience pain throughout the body.

Likewise, in people with brain tumors, headaches last for days and do not improve with treatment.

Pain can also be a sign of the final stage.

2. Weight loss without cause

Almost half of people with this disease experience weight loss for no reason. This is often one of the first symptoms of cancer observed.

3. Fatigue

If you feel tired all the time and it doesn’t get better after resting, get checked out immediately. This could be a symptom of cancer such as leukemia or colon and stomach cancer.

4. Fever

If you have a high fever or it lasts more than 3 days, get checked immediately.

Some types of blood cancer, such as lymphoma, cause fever for days or even weeks.

5. Changes in the skin

Ask your doctor to check for moles, lumps, or new marks and patches growing on the skin.

If it becomes darker, looks yellow or red, itches, or grows a lot of hair, it could be a symptom of liver, ovarian, kidney, or lymphoma cancer.

6. Wounds that don’t heal

Spots that bleed and don’t go away are a symptom of skin cancer. In people with oral cancer, wounds that don’t heal usually occur in the mouth.

7. Unusual bleeding

This dangerous disease can also cause bleeding in places where it shouldn’t be. Blood in the stool is a symptom of colon or rectal cancer.

The presence of tumors along the urinary tract can also cause blood in the urine.

8. Anemia

This occurs when the body does not have enough red blood cells, which are made by the bone marrow. This condition can occur due to cancer, such as leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma

Diagnosis

The doctor will determine the diagnosis method based on the type of cancer experienced. Here are some of them:

Barium enema. This procedure is to determine the health condition of the large intestine and rectum.
Biopsy. Doctors perform this procedure by taking a tissue sample to diagnose it.

Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy. This procedure is to provide health information to blood cells.
Bone scanner. This examination is to find abnormal cells or see how well treatment is working.
Breast MRI. Aims to see breast tissue.

Colonoscopy, to see part of the large intestine.

  • Computed Tomography (CT) scan . This procedure is to discover and learn more about this disease.
  • Digital Rectal Exam (DRE) . This procedure examines the lower part of the rectum and stomach, as well as the pelvis.
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG) and echocardiogram. This examination checks for problems with the heart muscle, valves, or rhythm.
  • Endoscopy , to look inside the body.
  • Fecal occult blood test. This examination is to check for blood in the stool.
  • Mammogram . This is an examination to check for abnormal cells in the breast.
  • Pap test. This examination is to find cell changes that can cause cervical cancer.
  • Ultrasound . This is to find out the location of the tumor in the body.
  • Upper endoscopy. This is an endoscopy to examine the area of ​​the esophagus, stomach, and upper part of the small intestine.

Cancer Treatment

Treatment of this disease depends on the type and stage of the disease, potential side effects, and the preferences and general health of the patient.

The following are the most common cancer treatments:

1. Chemotherapy

This treatment step involves the use of high-intensity chemicals to kill cancer cells that are growing in the body.

Chemotherapy is the most common treatment method, because these disease cells develop faster than normal cells in the body.

2. Radiotherapy

This treatment step involves exposure to high energy wave radiation such as X-rays, gamma, protons and electrons to kill cancer cells.

Apart from cancer, this method is also used to treat patients with tumors and disorders of the thyroid gland.

3. Targeted therapy

This treatment step involves using drugs or other chemicals, to identify and attack cancer cells specifically without killing normal cells.

These therapies include monoclonal antibodies, tyrosine kinase inhibitors, and cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors .

4. Operation 

The goal of surgery is to remove as many abnormal cells as possible.

Several types of surgery to treat cancer include curative surgery, debulking (removing some disease cells), palliative (to treat advanced disease), and supportive (to help carry out other therapies).

5. Bone marrow transplant 

Bone marrow transplant or another name is stem cell transplant. Bone marrow is the material in bones that makes blood cells.

This treatment method can use the patient’s own cells or cells from a donor.

Bone marrow transplants allow doctors to use high doses of chemotherapy to treat cancer. It can also replace diseased bone marrow.

6. Immunotherapy

Having another name, namely biological therapy, immunotherapy uses the sufferer’s immune system to fight this disease.

This disease can survive uncontrolled in the body because the immune system does not recognize it as an intruder. 

Well, immunotherapy can help the immune system “see” cancer and attack it.

7. Hormone therapy 

Some types of cancer are triggered by the body’s own hormones. Examples include those occurring in the breast and prostate.

Removing those hormones from the body or blocking their effects can cause abnormal cells to stop growing.

In order to get the right treatment, you need to know what is meant by the 4 stages of cancer .

Cancer Complications

This disease and its treatment can trigger complications in the form of:

  • Pain. These complications can occur due to abnormal cell growth or treatment.
  • Fatigue. This occurs as an effect of chemotherapy or radiation therapy treatment, but is usually temporary.
  • Nausea and difficulty breathing. Both the disease and its treatment can cause feelings of nausea and shortness of breath. 
  • Weight loss. This condition occurs because abnormal cells steal food from normal cells and deprive them of nutrients. 
  • Chemical changes in the body. This disease can also disrupt the normal chemical balance in the body, increasing the risk of serious complications. 
  • Brain and nervous system problems. This condition can press on nearby nerves and cause pain and loss of function of one part of the body. 
  • Unusual immune system reaction. The immune system can react to the presence of disease by attacking healthy cells. 
  • Cancer that spreads. As they grow, abnormal cells can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.
  • The disease returns. Sufferers are at risk of experiencing cancer symptoms again if the previous condition is of high intensity.

Cancer Prevention

There are several things you can do to minimize the risk of cancer symptoms in the future, namely:

  • Quit smoking. This habit is linked to various types of cancer, including lung, mouth, throat, larynx, pancreas, bladder, cervix and kidney cancer.
  • Eat healthy food. Eating lots of fruit and vegetables, maintaining an ideal body weight, and stopping consuming alcohol can help prevent symptoms from occurring.
  • Limit processed meat. Eating processed meat frequently may slightly increase the risk of developing some types of cancer.
  • Maintain ideal body weight. These preventative steps can reduce the risk of various types of cancer, including breast, prostate, lung, colon and kidney cancer.
  • Exercise regularly.  At least do this prevention 150 minutes a week.
  • Limit sun exposure. This step can reduce the risk of skin cancer.

When Should You See a Doctor?

If you experience several symptoms of cancer as explained above and last for several weeks or become worse, immediately consult a doctor.

You can also contact a doctor at Halodoc to discuss the symptoms you are experiencing.

Through Video/Voice Call and Chat , trusted doctors can provide an initial diagnosis and appropriate health advice.

Come on, download the application now on the Apps Store and Google Play.

Reference:
National Cancer Institute. Accessed 2023. What Is Cancer?
Cancer Research UK. Accessed 2023. What is cancer?
Mayo Clinic. Accessed 2023. Cancer prevention: 7 tips to reduce your risk.
WebMD. Accessed 2023. Cancer Symptoms.

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