Tuesday, August 2, 2016

UNDERSTANDING CANCER


By Dr. Prerna Singla


Cancer means the cells that are growing abnormally (imagine a Bull gone wild).

Medically, there are certain changes taking place in a cell that differentiate a cancerous cell from a normal cell. They differ in shape, size, number, arrangement as well as basic features of a normal cell. 

Human body and normal body cells behave alike. After a certain time, they stop growing. But this feature is damaged in a cancer cell. It does not stop growing. It’s like a music player that does not have a ‘Stop’ button and the music that is playing is disturbing.

Cancers are of basic two types:
  • Benign
  • Malignant


When the doctors say that the cancer is benign... it means it is a mass(es) of cells that are encapsulated i.e. they have a coating / capsule or a covering around them.

When this coating or the capsule is ruptured, the cells are released and they metastasise i.e. they spread.

Remember the Quidditch Ball in Harry Potter series??? The Ball locked inside the box, is like the Benign cancer where the cancerous cells are locked inside the cover. If the Quidditch Ball is released, it runs like wild, hard to catch. Similarly, if the cancer cells break away from the capsule, they run wild and spread everywhere.

Metastatic growths may stick to membranes and divide or travel via blood stream.

Benign cancers can be removed from the body(a.k.a. Excision). The basic for the removal of any diseased tissue is to remove the affected part + some healthy tissue to ensure that whatever is left is completely a healthy tissue. This is a medical rule that applies to almost all ailments, tumours, gangrene, cysts etc .... we remove/ excise till we reach the healthy tissue but with a conventional approach i.e. removing only what is absolutely required and not more than that.

If the doctors leave some affected part while removing the diseased tissue, chances of re-infection are always there.

If it’s a benign growth (i.e. encapsulated), complete removal is easier.

Sometimes while removing the benign cancer, if care is not taken and the coating gets ruptured, chances of metastasis increase. With malignant tumours, earlier the tumour is detected, better the chances of survival.  


Q. Chemo can also detect cancer?

A:  Chemo is the treatment of cancer. i.e. done to destroy cancer cells so it is not a diagnostic tool but a treatment tool. It is always given after the cancer is detected.


Q. Loss of what is the Hallmark for any cancer?

A: The symptoms differ from patient to patient according to the body part involved and cancers are also named according to the body part/tissue it affects (Fibroma, Myeloma, Liposarcoma, Lymphoma etc)

With cancer on surfaces, any tissue changes that are increasing may be a sign of cancer. If there is a mole or nodule or a growth that does not resolve after some time and appears to be ever increasing/worsening, gives the basic sign of cancerous tendency. Like a mouth ulcer. Almost everyone suffers from a common mouth ulcer in his/her life. But if an ulcer does not heal over the course of months and increases (Unhealing ulcer), it is a sign of oral cancer.

Take blood/colon/rectal/uterine cancer for example.. it may not show signs on the face but easy bruising, blood in urination, profuse bleeding and medical tests may indicate the probability of one.

Therefore, it depends largely on the area affected by the cancer. A persistent, long lasting, non resolving coughing or hoarseness may indicate lung or Larynx cancer respectively. A patch, growth, nodule, mole, wart, ulcer, or any new change in the body that does not resolve over time and keeps worsening, may indicate cancerous tendency.


Q. Why are some cancers not excised?

A. Some of the cancerous growths are benign and have less chances of metastasis etc or are harmless... such cancerous growths are usually left as is, like a very small nodule like structure that appears in the legs of elderly (most of fibromas).

Second reason why sometimes harmless nodules are not excised /removed (esp. in elderly or people with certain medical conditions where surgery can be risky) is because of poor wound healing and more susceptibility to infection. As we age, our body systems and their working gets affected... same with wound healing and susceptibility to infections ... so the risk is not taken if the growth is harmless.


Q. Are there possibilities for someone to get cancer again?

A: Yes. There are chances, but greatly reduced. The reason behind that is that the body tissue has gained the tendency for abnormal growth. Now one thing is continuously growing, spreading n growing while the other thing is continuously trying to suppress it.... Like the movie “The Mummy” ... the army of the underworld keeps reviving while the Actors continuously try to kill them (Yeah! Yeah! I am very filmy.) You can imagine this as two armies fighting. The stronger army that finishes the other, wins.  If the fighting army is not potent enough, the first army revives again.


Q. If our report says that we have a particular cancer, How do we know that it is benign or malignant? Can we know this from the terminology of cancer? 

A.  A very common terminology to understand when you read a report relating to cancer. For benign tumours, most commonly a suffix (-oma) is used with the tissue name ... eg. Myeloma.

When it is metastatic, most commonly applied suffix is (-sarcoma) with the tissue name ... eg: myelosarcoma.  Carcinoma is also a term used for metastatic cancers.

Now if you know the basics of body cells, you know the location/ tissue affected and now-a-days you can gather all related information from Google.  


Q. Can the cancer be prevented?

A. In some cases, Yes!  Habits, chemicals and other things that we do/use in our daily lives may lead to cancers, things like smoking, alcohol, Areca nuts (Supari), radiation, carcinogens, etc. By keeping proper diet and avoiding such carcinogenic elements, you can prevent many forms of cancers.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright © 2016 by Dr. PRERNA SINGLA. All rights reserved. No part of this write may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the Author, except for noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

For permission requests, write to the Author, addressed “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” at the email address below.