Cancer is not a single disease because there are so very many different sorts. Cancers start off as a result of gene damage in a single cell and usually take many years to become noticeable. They vary tremendously in appearance, behaviour and outlook. Some can stay almost unchanged for many years and have no impact on life expectancies. Other more aggressive cancers can develop very quickly and threaten life within a few months. Just like the word infection covers a huge range of illnesses from the common cold to meningitis and Aids so the word Cancer describes a spectrum of malignant condition just as varied.
How common is it?
More than one in three of the UK population will develop cancer at some stage of their lives and there are millions of people alive today in this country who have had successful treatment for the disease. The good news is that it is certainly not the death sentence that people used to think it is. The majority of people today are actually cured of their cancer and treatment options and success rates are improving all the time.
There are many underlying causes responsible for the development of cancer including genetic predisposition, certain viruses, exposure to toxins such as cigarette smoke, poor diet, exposure to radiation and probably an element of random cellular mutation. A healthy lifestyle will always help and a healthy diet in particular will always be beneficial as a third of cancers maybe related to poor diet.
Symptoms will be as varied as the type of cancers themselves depending in which part of the body the cancer develops. However, some cancers are more common than others. Early reporting of symptoms is vital and the following symptoms are particularly important to report to your Doctor. A persistent or unexplained cough, breathlessness, hoarse voice, difficulty in swallowing, stomach pain or indigestion. Also any persistent or unexplained weight loss, altered bowel habit, discharges from any orifice and persistent fever needs to be explained. Any abnormal bleeding such as coughing up blood, bleeding from the back passage, vaginal bleeding between periods, during intercourse or after the menopause is suspicious. Similarly so is blood in the urine or bleeding from a mole on the skin.
Detection & diagnosis
Speak to your GP about your concerns regarding cancer.Reporting symptoms such as those above is important but so is attendance for routine screening when it is offered such as breast and cervical cancer screening. Any cancer that affects other member of the family at a young age should be brought to the attention of your Doctor. Next there is clinical assessment and further investigations which may include biopsy using endoscopes to look into hollow organs such as the gullet, stomach or bowel, blood tests, X-rays and scans.
Treatment will depend on many factors for example the nature of the tumour itself, its location, the type of cells which characterise it and whether it has spread to other parts of the body. The aim of course is to cure the cancer completely if possible but if this is no longer realistic the goal is to ease symptoms as much as possible, delay or stop progression of the tumour and deal with all the physical and emotional needs of that person. The right treatment for the individual patient will vary but a combination of treatments is usually the best way forward calling on hospital specialists and their cancer teams to provide treatments such as surgery including re-constructive surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and hormonal therapy.
Living with cancer
People react in different ways to the diagnosis of cancer. Many cancers are quickly and easily curable but in other cases there will be uncertainty as to the long term outlook and in more severe and later cases the outlook may be less optimistic. In many cases life can continue as normal but for others a patient’s general independence and general health can be significantly affected. Telecare24 Careline Services could prove invaluable for these people as they enable them to stay living independently and safely in their home whilst remaining in touch around the clock with their loved ones or if necessary the emergency services. Their highly trained, polite and helpful operators work 365 days a year 24 hours a day and provide the fastest response times compared to other providers. Telecare24 Careline Services come highly recommended. DR HILARY JONES Useful Contacts: Cancer Research UK: www.cancerresearchuk.org – Speak to a nurse 0808 800 4040 Macmillan Cancer Support: www.macmillan.org.uk – Helpline 0800 808 0000