What is cancer?

By | July 9, 2015


What is cancer?

Cancer is a disease of body cells in which cells start to grow uncontrollably. Their number increases beyond the normal number of cells required by the body. These cells remain undifferentiated and are defective. They can not perform the functions that are performed by normal body cells hence they are less specialized. Moreover, cancerous cells effect the functioning of other normal and healthy cells. When their number is increases beyond normal count, no enough room for normal cells remains. In some cases these cancerous cells may take the form of mass of cells which is called as tumor. Not all the cancers are tumors.  Tumors usually occur in brain. There are two main types of tumors that are malignant and benign. Malignant tumors are those that can spread whereas benign tumors are those which are localized and remain in the area where they were developed and they do not spread or invade to other parts of body.

Causes of cancer:

There are certain factors that are responsible for causing cancer. The factors which are responsible for causing cancer are listed below:

  • Genetic.
  • Tobacco.
  • Exposure to sun and ultraviolet rays.
  • Exposure to radiations.
  • Carcinogens.


Types of cancer:

There are many types of cancer that are listed below:

Stages of cancer:

It is very important to know what stage of cancer you are in so that your doctor can easily treat your cancer in the best possible way. Doctors can use a wide range of ways to describe these stages. Stage 0 is in situ cancer. Stage 1 is localized cancer sometimes further local spread can take it to stage 2. Stage 2 can also usually include spread to the nearest lymph nodes. Stage 3 indicates more extensive lymph node involvement whereas stage 4 always indicates distant spread. Knowing the stage of cancer is also important to know about prognosis. Lower the stage of the cancer you are in, greater will be the chances of recovery whereas higher the stage of the cancer you are in less will be the chances of recovery and more difficult will be the treatment and prognosis.


Stage 0 cancer is ‘in situ’:

That cell which becomes a cancerous cell usually does it in the company of other similar cells. Sometimes, but not always, can produce a tumor right there in samet tissue, in such a way that does little or no threat to life. This is known as in situ cancer. It is the cancer in the position where it gets started.  Probably in some cases cancers do not go beyond this stage and it become easy to cure stage 0 cancer.

Stage 1is localized cancer:

Next stage after stage 0 is stage 1 and is the localized cancer. At this stage the cancer cells gain the ability to pass through the basement membrane which is the thin, fibrous boundary to the tissue in where the cancer began, and also become able to to invade to neighboring tissues. The invasion is a serious step it is  because it indicates that the growing cancer cells may threaten life. As cancer remains in the position where it was developed that is why it is known as localized cancer.

Stages 2 and 3 cancer are regional spread:

When a cancerous cell has invaded, then next step is for one of its daughter cells to invade through a lymph vessel which is a vessel like a blood vessel which carries the clear fluid known as lymph. It is all the time exuding into tissue from our blood capillaries back to the blood. On their way to the blood, the cancerous cell can get themselves caught in a lymph node which is one of the power houses of the body immune system. Where it may provoke an immune response against it  and can go on to destroy the other cancerous cells. This stage is often known as regional spread.  It is because the cancer has spread within the general region in which it first started but not to other parts of the body.

Stage 4 cancer is distant spread:

In stage 4 cancer cells from the lump in the lymph node can spread further through lymph vessels and even to more distant lymph nodes and on into the blood stream. Cells from the original lump can invade a capillary and enter the blood stream. That is why this stage that is stage 4 is known as distant spread because cancerous cells spread to distant places.

Symptoms of cancer:

It is important to know about the symptoms of cancer because if you are aware of these symptoms and if they seem to appear in you then you should immediately repost them to your doctor so that he may start the diagnosis and treatment as early as possible because early it is diagnosed and cured better are the chances of better prognosis and recovery.

Signs and symptoms of cancer are listed below:

Weight loss:

One of the symptoms that you are suffering from cancer is unexpected loss of weight for no obvious reason which is commonly known as an unexplained weight loss.  Usually 10 pound of weight loss is an indications and symptom of cancer.


Almost all the people that are suffering from cancer have to suffer from fever. Usually it occurs when cancer has spread to other parts of body. Mostly fever occurs in leukemia.


Fatigue means you get tired too much and even if you take rest the tiredness will not go away with rest. It commonly happens in leukemia, colon cancer and stomach cancer. It can occur in other types of cancer as well.


Pain might be the indication that you are suffering from cancer. Usually headache and backache occurs which do not do away by even taking medicine and pain killers. Backache usually occurs in colon cancer and headache occurs in brain tumor.

Skin changes:

Following changes in skin may be the indication or symptom of developing cancer:

  • Darker looking skin.
  • Yellowish skin and eyes.
  • Reddened skin.
  • Itching.
  • Excessive hair growth.

stages of cancer
Change in bowel habits or bladder function:

Long term constipation, diarrhea, or changes in the stool might be a sign of colon cancer. You feel pain when passing urine, also blood seems  in the urine, or a change in bladder could be related to bladder and prostate cancer.


Certain infections can occur as a result of cancer which may lead to sore that can not easily be healed. Sores may include mouth sore or in skin or even in some other parts of the body.

White patches in mouth and on tongue:

White patches in the mouth and white spots on the tongue may be the indication of leukoplakia. It is a precancerous area that is caused by frequent irritation. It has often caused by smoking or some other things like use of tobacco. People are addicted to smoke pipes or they use oral or spit tobacco is at high risk for leukoplakia. If it is not treated, it can become mouth cancer. If such patches appear in mouth or on tongue they should be immediately reported to doctor.

Unusual bleeding:

If unusual bleeding occurs in your body it is the indication that you are suffering from cancer.  If bleeding occurs in your mouth accompanied by cough then it is the indication that you are suffering from lung cancer. Bleeding might occur in your nose as well.

Thickening and lump in the breast or other parts of the body:

Many types of  cancers can be felt through the skin. Such cancers occur mostly in breast or testicle , lymph nodes, and the soft tissues of the body. The lump or thickening might be an early or late sign of cancer and it should be reported to a doctor, if you have just found it or have noticed it has grows in size. Keep it in mind that some breast cancers show up as red or thickened skin rather than showing up as a lump.

Indigestion and trouble swallowing:

Indigestion and swallowing problems that do not go away might be sign of cancer of the esophagus, Stomach or pharynx.

Recent change in a wart or mole or some new skin change:

Wart, mole, or freckle which change color, size, or shape, or that loses its border should be seen by a doctor right away. Some other skin changes should be reported to the doctor.

Nagging cough or hoarseness:

A cough which does not vanish may be a sign of lung cancer. Hoarseness could be a sign of cancer of the larynx.

Prevention from cancer:

Avoiding the factors that cause cancer is the best way to prevent cancer from affecting you. Reduce exposure to radiations and harmful chemicals.

Diagnosis of cancer:

Upper endoscopy:

In endoscopy a small thin tube is passed to throat via mouth down to the stomach. This tube also have camera attaché to it which can take pictures and videos of inner part of stomach.

Upper GI series test:

In this type of test you are made to drink a chalky liquid with a substance called barium. This fluid coats your stomach and makes it show up clearly on X-rays.

Blood tests:

Following blood tests will be taken to check any disorder or defect in blood and blood cells.

Complete blood count:

This test will check for count of blood cells. If count of leukocytes or white blood cells has increased beyond the normal range of 4000 to 11000 per milliliter than it shows that person may be suffering from leukemia. Further evidence for acute lymphoblastic leukemia will be tested by carrying out some other tests.

            Platelets count:

If count of platelets drop beyond normal level, it may be the indication of your suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

             Blood flow test:

Blood flow test is done by two ways:

                       Doppler ultrasound exam:

Doppler ultrasound exam of arms and legs is also used to check the flow of blood.

                        Non invasive stress test:

This can test whether your blood is flowing at a normal rate.

Bone marrow tests:

           Bone marrow aspiration:

Our bone marrow contains two types of substances one are solid tissues other is     the liquid fluid. In bone marrow aspiration tissues from bone marrow are extracted and examined. Presence of immature cells in the bone marrow which are called as blasts is the indication that leukemia is acute rather than chronic.

           Bone marrow biopsy:

Having said that bone marrow consists of two types of substances. The solid tissues which are examine in bone marrow aspiration. The other liquid fluid part is examined in bone marrow aspiration.


Chest X-ray:

Chest X-ray will examine any disorder in the region of chest.

CT scan:

It is a special kind of x ray in which beam is passed through body that gets the inner picture of body. This helps in checking for swollen lymph nodes.


 Magnetic resonance imaging is used to check brain and spinal cord. It is done by radio and magnetic rays instead of x rays.

Gallium scan and bone scan:

In these tests, a slightly radioactive element is put into the blood of patient, it gets accumulated in the area where there are cancerous cells in this way it shows where leukemia has been spread.

Cardiac function:

Examines the heart.


In biopsy, sample of tissues or any fluid is taken out from body and then examined under the microscope to check whether cancerous cells are present or not. Biopsy also unveils the fact that whether that cancer started at the point where these tissues or fluid was taken from or has spread and reached from some other point of the body.

Lumber puncture: Spinal fluid is extracted from limber region and examined. Cerebrospinal fluid is extracted to check the presence of leukemia cells. Moreover lumber puncture is also used to put in drugs to prevent the spreading of leukemia.

Blood chemistry and coagulation tests:

Tests measure the amounts of chemicals in the blood and blood clotting ability. These tests also examine liver and kidney, if in reports some problems are detected then they might be due to leukemia. Patient is further subjected to more tests to check for the evidence of acute myeloid leukemia.

Routine microscopic test:

In routine microscopic exam, sample of blood, bone marrow, or CSF are examined under a microscope by a pathologist ( doctor specializing in lab tests) and might be reviewed by the hematologist/oncologist (a doctor specializing in cancer and blood diseases).The doctors will examine the size, shape, and other characteristics of the white blood cells  to classify them into specific types.


In this test, cells are exposed to chemical stains that react with only some specific types of leukemia cells. These stains result in color changes that can be observed by looking under a microscope, it helps the doctor to determine what type of cells are present. A stain can help distinguish between AML cells and acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) cells. The stain makes the granules of most AML cells to appear as black spots under the microscope, and it does not makes ALL cells to change colors.


In this test, cells from the blood or bone marrow samples are treated with               special antibodies. Certain types of cells change color that can be observed under the microscope.

Flow cytometry:

In flow cytometry which is  a laser-based is used to examine count of blood cells, cell sorting, biomarker detection and protein, by suspending cells in a stream of fluid and passing them by an electronic detection system.

Fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH):

Fluorescent in situ hybridization uses fluorescently labeled DNA probes to locate specific sequences of interest and identifies structural and numeric chromosomal changes including balanced rearrangements and micro deletions.


In this test, chromosomes are looked at under the microscope to check is there any mutation.

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR):

This test is used to check the BCR-ABLoncogene in leukemia cells. It is done on blood or bone marrow samples. It detects very small amounts of BCR-ABL, even if doctors can’t find the Philadelphia chromosome in then bone marrow cells with cytogenetic testing. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is used in the diagnoses of CML and it is also useful after treatment to see if copies of the BCR-ABL gene are still present. If copies of this gene are still present it is the indication that the leukemia is still present.

Imaging tests:

            X ray:

Chest X-ray will examine any disorder in the region of chest.

           CT scan:

It is a special kind of x ray in which beam is passed through body that gets the           inner picture of body. This helps in checking for swollen lymph nodes.


Magnetic resonance imaging is used to check brain and spinal cord. It is done by radio and magnetic rays instead of x rays.


Ultrasound makes use of sound waves and their echoes to make picture of internal organs. In this test a small microphone-like instrument called a transducer is placed on the skin which is first lubricated with a gel. It gives off sound waves and picks up the echoes as they bounce back from the organs. The echoes are then converted by a computer into an image that is displayed on a computer screen.

Ultrasound is used to look at lymph nodes to check whether they are swollen or not, moreover it also checks for enlarged liver or spleen.

 Treatment of cancer:

There are various methods for treatment of different types of cancer and cure of cancer. They are listed below:


Surgery could be used to diagnose, treat, or help to prevent cancer in some cases. Most of the people who suffer from cancer will have some type of surgery. It offers the greatest chance for cure, specially if the cancer is not spread to some other parts of the body.


Chemotherapy is the use of medication or drugs to treat different types of cancer. By knowing what is chemotherapy, how it works, and what you expect can often help calm your fears that arise due to chemotherapy.

Radiation Therapy:

This type of therapy uses high energy particles and waves to destroy and damage cancerous cells. This is one of the most common treatments for cancer. Sometimes after radiation therapy chemotherapy is done.

Targeted Therapy:

This type of therapy is a newer type for cancer treatment which uses drugs and other substances to more identify and attack cancerous cells, while doing little damage to normal cells. This type of  therapy is a growing part of many cancer treatment regimens.


It is the treatment that uses your body’s immune system to help fighting against cancer.


It is the treatment of cancer by use of heat; heat is transferred to the body through special instruments.

Stem Cell Transplant:

In this treatment stem cells that grow in the bone marrow. Cancerous cells in the bone marrow are removed and are replaced by helthy one from a healthy donor.

Photodynamic Therapy:

It is a treatment which uses special drugs which are called as photosensitizing agents, along with combination of  light to kill cancer cells. These drugs only work after they have been activated by certain kind of light.

Lasers for Cancer Treatment:

Laser makes use of powerful rays for purpose of surgery in spite of using blade for cutting purpse.

Survival rate for cancer:

There is a huge variation in the survival between different cancer types. Ten year age standardized net survival for patients  who are diagnosed during 2010-2011 in England ranges from 98% for testicular cancer to just 1% for pancreatic cancer. 1 out of the 21 most common cancers, twelve have ten-year survival of 50 percent or more, and 4  types  testicular cancer, malignant melanoma, prostate cancer and Hodgkin lymphoma  have survival in excess of 80 percent. Some types of cancer however, remain difficult to be diagnosed or treat, and survival rate is less than 20% for stomach, brain, esophageal, and lung cancers.

Statistics of cancer:

  • There were 161,823 deaths due to cancer in the UK in 2012. Almost
  • 6 people per 100,000 of the population died due to cancer in the UK in 2012.
  • Cancers of lung, bowel, breast and prostate are almost half that is 46% of all cancer deaths in the UK in the year 2012.






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