Cancer: All you need to know

There are more than 200 types of recognized cancers around the world. With ever-changing lifestyles, there are more cases of cancer and many misconceptions about this disease. Let us know through this article various aspects of cancer such as types, causes, treatment, and prevention.


Cancer is an uncontrolled multiplication of cells. This can happen anywhere in the human body. Cancer is one of the highest causes of mortality around the world. There are different types of cancer. Let us check them in detail.

Types of Cancer

  • Benign Cancer/ Tumor: This type of cancer is limited to a confined space. They do not invade the surrounding tissues or other body parts. These tumors are not called cancers in medical terms. Benign tumors are named with the suffix oma at the end of the name along with the organ affected. Example: Lipoma which is a common tumor of fat cells. Not to be confused with some cancers which use the suffix noma at the end. Example: Melanoma, which is a malignant cancer of the pigment cells called melanocytes. Benign tumors grow within a fibrous connective tissue. Most cases of benign tumors are not lethal and can be treated very easily

  • Malignant Cancer/True Cancer: This type of cancer is true cancer which has the ability to invade other body parts known as metastasis. They are simply called as cancers. The primary tumor, the point of origin can travel and invade other body parts through bloodstream or lymphatics. The secondary tumors of cancer cause more serious symptoms than the primary tumor. Treatment of cancer varies depending on the type, origin, and location


The cancer symptoms vary depending on their location and stage (TNM Stage). Most common symptoms are increased tissue seen as a lump or tumor, unexpected bleeding, fatigue, weight loss, fever etc. Most symptoms are specifically related to the origin and location of cancer.

Cancer stages Or TNM Staging

TNM staging is a useful tool for diagnosing the extent of the cancerous tissue in the human body. With this staging, one can conclude whether the cancer is an advanced stage or at the beginning stage.
  • T – Tumor, the size, and extent of the main tumor
  • N – Extent of the tumor to lymph nodes.
  • M – Presence of metastasis.

Based on the above three criteria the extent of a cancer is named according to the following findings
  • TX – The Main tumor cannot be measured
  • T0 – The Main Tumor cannot be found
  • T1 to T4 – It represents the size of the tumor. Larger the number, larger the size of the tumor. If the tumor invades nearby tissue (not metastasis but mass growth) the T is further divided into various degrees. Example: T3a, T3

Lymph Nodes:
  • NX – Cancer in nearby lymph nodes cannot be measured
  • N0 – No cancer in nearby lymph nodes.
  • N1 to N4 – Indicates the number of lymph nodes that have cancer.

  • MX – Metastasis cannot be measured.
  • M0 – Metastasis is not found.
  • M – Cancer has metastasized to other body parts.

So if a doctor or any oncologist describes cancer as T2N0M0 then you can refer to the TNM staging and understand the extent of cancer.

Common and less specific classifications of cancers that is most widely used by common people

  • Stage 0: Cancer cells have not spread to nearby tissues.
  • Stage I, II and III – Cancer cells have spread to nearby tissues.
  • Stage IV – Cancer cells have spread to distant body parts.

Often the cancer staging is evaluated by analyzing the tissue sample called as a biopsy. We can also determine the prognosis of cancer by determining the stage and its location.

Most common cancers among men, women, and children

  • Women: Breast cancer, cervix cancer, colorectal and lung cancer
  • Men: Prostate cancer, lung cancer, lip cancer, oral cancer and colorectal cancer
  • Children: Leukemia (blood cancer) and brain cancer


Majority of the cancer cause is due to environmental factors which mutate the genes resulting in uncontrollable multiplication of cells. 90% of the cancers are due to the mutation of genes. Other causes include chemicals such as tobacco, alcohol, gutkha chewing, betel nut chewing, inhalation of hazardous chemicals such as benzene and physical agents such as asbestos, lead etc. Diet and obesity can also lead to various forms of cancers. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation will result in various forms of skin cancer. Infections by certain viruses (Human Papilloma Virus) and bacteria can also cause cancers. Other causes include inheritance of defective genes, hormonal imbalance can also result in cancer. Some autoimmune diseases such as Crohn's disease can predispose the risk of causing gastrointestinal cancer.

Different types of Cancer

  • Carcinoma – Caner from epithelial cell origin. Ex: Breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer
  • Sarcoma – Cancers developing from connective tissue (cartilage, bone, and fat). Ex: osteosarcoma (cancer of the bone)
  • Leukemia: Also called as lymphoma develops from blood-forming cells which come out of the bone marrow
  • Germ Cells: These cancers develop from the embryonic cells. Ex: Ovarian cancer, testicular cancer
  • CNS Cancers: These cancers develop in nervous tissue such as Central Nervous System (CNS - brain and spinal cord)


The usual diagnosis of cancer can be done by preliminary screenings such as X-Ray, CT Scans, MRI, blood tests, endoscopy, ultrasound etc. These tests initially locate the cancerous tissue in the human body. Later the tissue sample is taken for biopsy to accurately determine the extent of cancer. This test is done by a Pathologist.

In this diagnosis, one must remember that metastatic cancer means that cancer that has developed in a particular organ or tissue is not its site of origin. If a doctor says metastatic cancer to lungs, it means cancer has spread to lungs from a different point of origin.


The treatment of cancer depends on the stage and location. The basic treatment includes surgical removal of cancerous mass or tissue later followed by various treatment modalities:
  • Chemotherapy – It is the treatment with anticancer drugs which will act on cancer cells and kill them. This treatment will generally act on the cells which divide at a rapid rate. There are many side effects of these drugs which may interfere with normal cell division also. Most common side effects are the loss of hair, weight loss, difficulty in urine and stool discharge, skin rashes, sensitive skin, and fatigue
  • Radiation Therapy – This treatment is used to treat almost all cancer which has a characteristic lump or a solid tissue mass. In this method, high ionized rays (X-Rays) are exposed to the affected area. This can be done externally on the surface or internally through a method called brachytherapy. Although this method destroys both cancer cells and normal cells, normal cells tend to recover soon and function normally. The main goal of this treatment is to shrink and kill the tumor. The major side effect of radiation therapy is Dry Mouth. In Dry Mouth, the salivary glands of the mouth are damaged and the lubrication of oral cavity is minimized. Sometimes this damage is for life
  • Precision Oncology – This is more specific and more advanced method of treating cancer. In this method, the gene responsible for causing the cancer is determined and is 'switched off'. Though this method is in developmental stages it has promising results. This treatment method requires a lot of research as it requires a lot of time and resources to study the genetic structure of human body
  • Targeted Therapy – This treatment method is also very high in research and demand. Targeted therapy also called for molecular targeted therapy inhibits the growth of cancer cells by blocking the ingredients required by cells. For example, these agents block proteins required for a cell to multiply thereby inhibiting the carcinogenesis. This method is highly successful in treating breast cancer, lung cancer, colorectal cancer and lung cancer
  • Hormonal Therapy – Another most popular method to treat cancer which is intensively researched. In this method, steroid hormones are infused to the patient to prevent the inhibition of other glands to secrete hormones. Genes possess information which is transcribed to manufacture a product (ex: proteins). This is called as Gene Expression. Steroid hormones have a very powerful effect on the gene expression. By giving such steroid hormones to a cancer patient, the activity or hormone levels of the endocrine system is altered and thereby inhibiting the growth of cancer cells or killing them. Surgical removal of certain endocrine glands is also a part of hormonal therapy
  • Vaccination – Vaccines are given to prevent cancers which result due to infections by viruses and bacteria. This treatment is also called as Immun Therapy. Vaccination against Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), Hepatitis (B and C) virus is necessary to prevent the cancers of the cervix (caused by HPV) or cirrhosis (liver cancer caused by hepatitis B virus)

There are other treatments available and some of them are cancer-specific such as cytotoxic therapy, angiogenesis therapy etc. Intense research is going on these days to develop and find new treatment modalities. Many drugs have been invented that have least side effects.
Depending on the stage and location of cancer, a patient may require surgery along with chemotherapy, radiation therapy etc.


Prognosis depends on the stage of cancer. The mortality rate increases with increased stage of cancer. Usually, cancer which has metastasized has high mortality rate and the life expectancy of such individual on average is 5 years. There is a high chance of forming secondary cancer in survival patients. Although there are many instances where the cancer was cured completely even in advanced stages with no incidence of secondary cancer, it is not a compulsion in every case. Cancer is one of the major cause of mortality around the world. Nearly 13.7% of deaths (out of all other deaths) are due cancer.
The prognosis depends on cancer type, stage, age and overall health of the patient. There are many types of research going on which aims at enhancing the survival rate. Nowadays a patient with a life expectancy of 3-6 months is able to survive more than 5 years with new drugs and treatment modalities. There will be definite side effects of present treatment options available.

The prognosis also depends on the support they get from the family and the society. Most societies think this as a long-term illness which will ultimately result in death. The apparent stigma also affects the outcome. The economic situation is another key role in prognosis. This is reflected in surveys stating that the cancer prognosis is worse in developing countries than developed countries.

How to give support to a Cancer patient?

These days moral support is giving great results than medical treatments. Understanding their pain and suffering and easing them in the best way you can support them.
  • Stay beside them whenever needed
  • Always be supportive and reinforce optimism into them.
  • Surprise them with presents such gifting them a puppy or a cat or any pet. Their unconditional love will show a lot of improvement.
  • Take them out for a walk to have some fresh air.
  • Take a walk on beach side if possible.

The more you make them feel comfortable in your presence the better they recover. Remember that they will be in immense depression because of their state and they have a tendency of developing pessimism. They try to become introvert and hide their feelings. Show them a lot of love and affection. Show them that you are always there and will lend a shoulder when needed. Try to seek palliative care if available.

How to avoid Cancer?

Since environmental factors are the major causes of cancer, having a healthy life is the best way to avoid the risk of cancer incidence. Avoid carcinogenic agents such as smoking (tobacco use), alcohol, processed foods, foods that contain preservatives, junk food etc. Research proved that consumption of red meat will increase the risk of cancer.
  • Have a healthy diet
  • Do exercises regularly
  • Cut down the excess fat, burn the calories.
  • Eat food that contains anti-oxidants (Green tea, berries, dark chocolate).
  • Avoid inhalation of carcinogenic agents such as benzene, lead, asbestos, cotton dust etc.
  • Eat fruits, leafy vegetables, and vegetables rich in carotene such as carrot, tomato, beetroots etc

Having a planned and healthy lifestyle will always keep cancer at bay. Go for regular full-body checkups at your nearest hospital. Remember that recognizing cancer at early stages is very important to cure it completely.

Every year February 4th is marked as World Cancer Day to raise awareness in people to stay healthy and encourage in prevention, detection, and treatment for cancer.

Raise awareness about this dreadful disease and remove all the taboos about cancer in this society or within your family itself. Deep medical research is going on to develop medicines and remedies to prevent cancer and hence no one needs to worry if he/she has cancer. Stay Healthy, Stay Educated, Stay Safe.

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