F An Overview of Cancer - Center for Asbestos Safety in the Workplace

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An Overview of Cancer

Cancer is known to affect healthy cells, transforming them into malignant cells and resulting in their uncontrolled growth. In a healthy individual, millions of normal cells grow, divide, mature and die every day to replace cells that have worn-out or are in their dying stages, or to repair an injury. The entire process is regulated and tightly controlled. If due to some reason (for example environmental pollutants, smoking or just bad luck) the genetic blueprint of a specific cell gets damaged, it is possible that the cell may begin to divide uncontrollably. After a specific time frame, these cells may begin to accumulate and lead to tumors, which can prove harmful for the body in several different ways.

These tumors can spread to and damage neighboring tissue. Certain tumors release enzymes or hormones that can disrupt the normal functions of the body. As these tumors grow in size, they develop and expand their network of vessels in order to supply them with the nourishment they need. When this occurs, the healthy cells are robbed of essential nutrients. Over a period of time, some of these malignant cells may break loose from the primary tumor and travel to other body parts, where they may establish tumor colonies. The process of cancer spreading to other body parts is known as metastasis and the cancer itself in these cases is said to have metastasized.

Cancer and the genetic link

Almost all types of cancers are caused due to changes (mutations) in the DNA, which controls cell division and behavior. If the DNA is damaged, it may activate genes known as oncogenes. These genes signal the cells to continue dividing. Damage to DNA can also lead to the inactivation of genes known as tumor-suppressor genes that instruct the cells not to divide. Most types of cancers develop due to the activation of oncogenes and inactivation of tumor-suppressor genes.

In most cases, genetic damage is believed to occur due to environmental factors, for example, radiation, exposure to chemicals, viruses such as hepatitis B or smoke and pollution. Cell mutations can also occur accidentally when cells divide. Mistakes that occur naturally during cell division can be inherited, which explains why certain cancers tend to aggregate in families.

Cancer – A preventable disease

With more information available on the risk factors associated with different types of cancers, researchers are now of the opinion that most cancers are preventable. Risk of developing cancer can be reduced if you limit your exposure to specific substances that may be responsible for inducing cancerous growth. Cigarette smoke, for instance, greatly increases the risk of developing lung cancer. It also increases the probability of developing other types of cancers such as bladder, pancreatic and cervical cancer.

Scientists and researchers have come a long way in understanding cancer and defining effective treatment protocols. Even in cases where cancer cannot be prevented, availability of advanced screening and detection tools allow doctors to make an early diagnosis. The general rule is that if the tumor is small and confined to the site of origin, the patient is more likely to achieve a permanent cure.

Cancer pain

Limiting or alleviating pain caused due to cancer is a vital component of available treatment plans. The most effective and successful treatment plans rely on multiple therapies and seek to prevent occurrence of pain. In case the pain does occur, an appropriate dose of pain reliever must be administered immediately. Patients usually tend to wait for the pain to worsen before taking medication. Waiting for the pain to subside on its own may require patients to take more pills at a later date and lead to ineffective pain control.

Determining which treatment plan offers the most effective pain relief depends on the intensity and cause of pain. For mild pain, drugs such as acetaminophen or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) are often used. NSAIDs such as ibuprofen and naproxen are often prescribed to treat mild cancer pain. However, if the pain is severe, an opioid is normally required. Usually codeine is administered first, but if that does not work, other options such as morphine, oxycodone, and hydromorphone are used. Drugs such as methadone (long-acting narcotics) and sustained-release morphine sulfate can be administered to control recurring pain. In case a patient is unable to swallow pills, doctors can use options such as fentanyl skin patch and liquid morphine.

Drugs that help enhance the effectiveness of analgesics are known as adjuvant medications. These include:

There are other therapies as well that can be used to control pain. These include relaxation techniques, breathing exercises, massage, acupuncture and cutaneous stimulation with heat and cold. More on cancer.

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