Cancer is a complex set of diseases. Each cancer is unique in the way it grows and develops, its chances of spreading, the way it affects one`s body and the symptoms one may experience. Several factors, including location and how the cancerous cells appear under the microscope, determine how cancer is diagnosed. All cancers, however, fall into one of four broad categories:
Carcinoma is a malignant neoplasm of epithelial origin. It is a tumor that arises in the tissues that line the body`s organs like the nose, the colon, the penis, breasts, prostrate, urinary bladder, and the ureter. About 80% of all cancer cases are carcinomas.
The most common symptoms in esophageal carcinoma are dysphagia and weight loss. Pain can be a symptom of this disease. It can come from the growth of the tumor, be related to swallowing, or be related to metastases into the surrounding esophageal lymph nodes.The appearance of a skin lesion may indicate a squamous cell carcinoma. Blood in the urine, abnormal urine color, back pain, weight loss, enlargement of one testicle, all indicate the possibility of renal cell carcinoma.
In routine physical exams, the doctor looks for anything unusual and feels for any lumps or growths. Specific screening tests, such as lab tests, x-rays, or other procedures, are used routinely for such types of cancer. Blood and urine tests give important information about a person`s health. In some cases, special tests are used to measure the amount of certain substances, called tumor markers, in the blood, urine, or certain tissues. Tumor marker levels may be abnormal if certain types of cancer are present. However, lab tests alone cannot be used to diagnose cancer.
An abdominal CT scan shows the kidney tumor and may show a liver mass. A chest X-ray may show mass in the chest. A bone scan may show involvement of the bones.
Sarcomas are tumors that originate in bone, muscle, cartilage, fibrous tissue or fat. Ewing sarcoma (Family of tumors) and Kaposi`s sarcoma are the common types of sarcomas.
Ewing sarcoma occurs during the rapid bone growth that generally occurs during puberty. It is seldom seen before a child is 10 years old. The tumor may arise in the long bones of the extremities, most often in the femur (thigh bone) or the pelvis. It may also develop in the skull or the flat bones of the trunk. This type of tumor is almost never seen in black children.
Clinical symptoms are few. The most common is pain and occasionally swelling at the site of the tumor. Fever may also be present and is considered an unfavorable prognostic sign. The tumor spreads easily, often to the lungs and other bones. Metastasis is present in approximately one-third of the children at the time of diagnosis. There is no known prevention for this disorder.
If a tumor is suspected, tests to locate the primary tumor and any spread often include skeletal and chest X-rays, CT/CAT scan of the chest, bone scan and a biopsy of the tumor.
Treatment is under the direction of a cancer specialist (oncologist) and often includes a combination of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgical excision (removal) of the primary tumor, or amputation of the involved extremity (not routinely recommended).
Kaposi`s sarcoma is a malignant tumor frequently involving the skin of AIDS victims. In AIDS patients, it can develop aggressively and often involves the skin, lungs, gastrointestinal tract and other organs. Safe sexual practices can prevent infection with HIV, the virus responsible for AIDS, and its complications of which Kaposi`s sarcoma is one.
Symptoms include bluish-red macule or papule with an irregular shape, bleeding with gastrointestinal lesions, shortness of breath with pulmonary (lung) lesions, or bloody sputum with pulmonary lesions. Skin lesion biopsy and endoscopy are tests carried out as part of the diagnosis.
Treatment decisions depend upon the extent and location of the lesions, as well as the person`s symptoms and degree of immunosuppression. Excision of cutaneous lesions can be attempted. Radiation therapy or cryotherapy can be used for lesions in selected areas. Combination chemotherapy can also be used. The tumor can recur even after apparently successful treatment. This can be a fatal disorder for a person with AIDS.
Leukemias are cancers of the blood or blood-forming organs. When leukemia develops, the body produces a large number of abnormal blood cells. In most types of leukemia, the abnormal cells are white blood cells. The leukemia cells usually look different from normal blood cells, and they do not function properly. Leukemia can either be acute or chronic. In acute leukemia the abnormal blood cells are blasts that remain very immature and cannot carry out their normal functions. The number of blasts increases rapidly, thus creating a greater and earlier impact on the victim. In chronic leukemia, some blast cells are present which are comparatively more mature, and thus can carry out some of their normal functions. The number of blasts increases at a lower pace than in acute leukemia, as a result of which such condition worsens gradually.
Leukemia cells are abnormal cells that cannot do what normal blood cells do. They cannot help the body fight infections. Depending on the number of abnormal cells and where these cells collect, patients with leukemia may have a number of symptoms like:
• Fever, chills, and other flu-like symptoms;
• Weakness and fatigue;
• Frequent infections;
• Loss of appetite and/or weight;
• Swollen or tender liver, spleen and lymph nodes
• Easy bleeding or bruising;
• Tiny red spots under the skin;
• Swollen or bleeding gums;
• Sweating, especially at night; and/or
• Bone or joint pain.
Treatment for leukemia is complex. It varies with the type of leukemia and is not the same for all patients. The doctor plans the treatment to fit each patient`s needs. The treatment depends not only on the type of leukemia, but also on certain features of the leukemia cells, the extent of the disease, and whether the leukemia has been treated before. It also depends on the patient`s age, symptoms, and general health.
Acute leukemia needs to be treated right away. The goal of treatment is to bring about a remission. Then, when there is no evidence of the disease, more therapy may be given to prevent a relapse. Many people with acute leukemia can be cured.
Chronic leukemia patients who do not have symptoms may not require immediate treatment. However, they should have frequent checkups so the doctor can see whether the disease is progressing. When treatment is needed, it can often control the disease and its symptoms. However, chronic leukemia can seldom be cured.
Most patients with leukemia are treated with chemotherapy. Some also may have radiation therapy and/or bone marrow transplantation (BMT) or biological therapy. In some cases, surgery to remove the spleen (an operation called splenectomy) may be part of the treatment plan.
Lymphomas affect the lymphatic system, a network of vessels and nodes that acts as the body`s filter. The lymphatic system distributes nutrients to blood and tissue, and prevents bacteria and other foreign "invaders" from entering the bloodstream. There are over 20 types of lymphoma. Hodgkin`s disease is one type of lymphoma. All other lymphomas are grouped together and are called non-Hodgkin`s lymphoma. Non-Hodgkin`s lymphoma may occur in a single lymph node, a group of lymph nodes, or in another organ. This type of cancer can spread to almost any part of the body, including the liver, bone marrow, and spleen.
Doctors can seldom explain why one person gets non-Hodgkin`s lymphoma and another does not. It is clear, however, that cancer is not caused by an injury, and is not contagious; no one can "catch" non-Hodgkin`s lymphoma from another person.
There are, however, certain risk factors involved:
The likelihood of getting non-Hodgkin`s lymphoma increases with age and is more common in men than in women.
• It is more common among people with inherited immune deficiencies, autoimmune diseases, or HIV/AIDS, and among people taking immunosuppressant drugs following organ transplants.
• Human T-lymphotropic virus type I (HTLV-1) and Epstein-Barr virus are two infectious agents that increase the chance of developing non-Hodgkin`s lymphoma.
• People who work extensively with or are otherwise exposed to certain chemicals, such as pesticides, solvents, or fertilizers, have a greater chance of developing non-Hodgkin`s lymphoma.
The most common symptom of non-Hodgkin`s lymphoma is a painless swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, underarm, or groin. Other symptoms may include the following:
• Constant fatigue
• Unexplained weight loss
• Itchy skin
• Reddened patches on the skin
When symptoms are present, it is important to see a doctor so that any illness can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible. Do not wait to feel pain; early non-Hodgkin`s lymphoma may not cause pain.
Diagnosis of the suspected cancer may be done through a number of tests, like X-rays, CAT scans, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and with Lymphangiograms.
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are the most common treatments for non-Hodgkin`s lymphoma, although bone marrow transplantation, biological therapies, or surgery are sometimes used.
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