Cancer refers to any of a large number of diseases that are characterized by the growth of abnormal cells that divide uncontrollably. Cancerous tissue destroys healthy tissue as it spreads throughout the body. While cancer is the second-leading cause of death around the world, survival rates for many types are improving thanks to advances in treatment and screening.
The significant symptoms of cancer will depend on where it develops. Many people immediately think about the growth of hard lumps and tumors. However, there are more general symptoms that may occur in most types of cancer, including fatigue, unintended weight changes, changes in bowel/bladder function, and trouble swallowing. Others may experience persistent and unexplained fevers, indigestion, bruising, or muscle pain and weakness.
These symptoms can develop further alongside new complications. Pain, fatigue, and nausea are all common for those dealing with cancer and cancer treatments, but it can also be more complex. For instance, cancer can press on brain tissue and result in a wide variety of issues, including loss of function, strokes, and even personality changes.
Cancer that forms in one part of the body may spread to others, in a process called metastasizing. Where it spreads will be highly dependent on where it originated. Even when cancer goes into remission, there always remains a risk it will return. It’s incredibly crucial for cancer survivors to work with their doctor to devise a plan to mitigate risk and ensure regular screenings.
Cancer is caused by different mutations to the DNA within a given cell. The DNA found in each and every cell is split into a variety of genes, which each hold part of the information needed to reproduce cells. However, errors in this information can cause the cells to stop their normal function and even become cancerous.
These gene mutations can be something you’re born with or something that occurs during your life via smoking, radiation exposure, carcinogens, or other unhealthy choices. When they do occur, gene mutations generally affect cells in three distinct ways, allowing rapid proliferation, failure to stop excessive growth, as well as mutations that affect normal DNA repair processes.
Cancer is a widespread disease, with reports showing nearly 20 million new cases were identified in 2018 alone, along with 9.6 million deaths. A full 33% of these cases are linked to smoking, making it the leading cause of cancer. While survival rates have improved over the decades, estimates suggest there will be around 27.5 million new cases each year between now and 2040.
Given how serious of a diagnosis cancer is, the main priority for patients should be on prevention or a rapid treatment plan. If you’re worried you or a loved one could be facing a cancer diagnosis, don’t hesitate to visit your doctor and get tested. Only they can confirm and problems and get you on the right path forward.