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Approach to Care of Cancer

Updated on December 1, 2014

Diagnosing Cancer

The diagnosing cancer is the first vital element in care of cancer. This is because it determines the treatment methods that will follow. During the diagnosis process, physicians look at samples of affected tissue under a microscope to determine whether it is cancerous or not. This process only occurs in case an individual has signs of cancer or if their screening tests show any signs of cancer. This process is a biopsy. (A biopsy is basically the removal of small tissue in order to examine it under a microscope.) The biopsy usually shows whether the tissue is malignant or benign. Malignant means that it is cancerous whereas benign means that it is non-cancerous. The physicians usually remove the tissue they require for a biopsy in one of three ways: needle biopsy, endoscopy, or surgical biopsy.

Types of Biopsy

Needle biopsy is the procedure where the physician removes the tissue by inserting a needle into the area where they suspect the existence of cancerous tissue. In the endoscopy process, the physician uses a thin-lighted tube to look at the areas inside the body, remove cells, or take pictures in order to examine them.

There are two types of surgical biopsies. These are incisional and excisional biopsies. In the incisional biopsy, the physician removes just a small portion of the tissue and if they find that it is cancerous, they proceed to remove the rest of the tumor within the same surgical procedure or in another procedure. The excisional biopsy is where the physician removes the entire tumor with some of the tissue surrounding it.

Why a Biopsy is Necessary

The biopsy is a very important process in the diagnosing of cancer. If during the biopsy a person has cancer, the physicians determine the rate of growth of the cancerous tissues. They are able to do this by comparing the tumor cells with the normal cells of the patient. Well-differentiated tumor cells are those where the tumor cells look similar to the normal cells. When cells look completely different or have only minor similarities with the normal cells, then they are undifferentiated or poorly differentiated tumor cells. The poorly differentiated tumor cells are the more aggressive of the two and the spread earlier, grow faster, and have poorer outcomes than the well-differentiated cells.

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Cancer Staging

The biopsy also shows the extent or stage of the cancer in a process called staging. It tells the physician how far the cancer has spread in the patient's body. The staging process is important because it determines the treatment decisions that the patient will make. There are four common stages of cancer. These are in situ, regional, local, and distant.

When in situ, the cancer has not yet spread to other neighboring tissue. When cancer is local, it is only in the organ where it begun to grow, meaning that it has not spread to other organs. Regional cancer means that it has spread to lymph nodes and other surrounding tissues and distant means that it has spread to other systems and organs in the body.

How is Cancer Staging Carried Out?

There are a number of staging methods. These are imaging studies such as magnetic resonance imaging or ultrasounds, computed tomography, special surgeries, bone marrow biopsies, or even x-rays. Staging has into four stage classifications.

Stage 1: the cancer is only on the organ where it began forming.

Stage 2: This stage of cancer is occurs when it has possible spread to surrounding tissues and lymph nodes.

Stage 3: The cancer has grown extensively and other organs are possibly involved in the spreading process.

Stage 4: Here the cancer has spread extensively to other body organs that are far away from the original organ.

People are different, and conditions affecting them ever more so. As such, the timetable for everyone is not constant. Different cancers spread at different rates and therefore the time of diagnosis of a cancer may not mean the same thing for all cancers. In some, it may remain in the same stage for a long time and in others, it may take a much shorter time.

Complications and Side Effects of Cancer Treatment

Some of the cancer treatments used include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. They sometimes lead to oral complications. These may worsen in cases where patients had previous oral complications. In some cases, these complications may discourage patients from continuing their cancer treatment. They occur because chemotherapy suppresses the formation of various blood tissues such as red and white blood cells, and platelets. These complications include oral mucositis. In this case, the mucus membranes become inflamed increasing the risk of infection, pain, and nutritional compromise. Infections of viral, bacterial, and fungal nature may also occur.

Sometimes due to reduced functionality of the salivary glands because of chemotherapy, cancer patients may get dry mouth. This is because saliva is reduced, absent, or thickened. They may be unable to speak, swallow, or chew. Some more side effects of cancer treatment include oral functional disabilities such as impaired ability to speak, eat, swallow, or taste. This is because of infections, trismus, mucositis, and dry mouth. Sometimes, taste alterations may occur leading to a range of taste perceptions such as tastelessness and unpleasantness. Due to all these complications, sometimes patients compromise on their nutrition. This is because they have difficulties eating.

The most common side effects of cancer treatment include pain, fatigue, anemia, nausea and vomiting, lymphedema, infections, and sometimes second cancers. Surgeries or the cancer itself usually causes the pain. Nausea and vomiting occur frequently in cancer patients. However, physicians administer drugs to help them counter this. Cancer treatment leads to fatigue. This fatigue is usually more intense than regular fatigue. Reduced numbers of red blood cells cause anemia. It causes shortness of breath, a feeling of weakness, and tiredness. Lymphedema is another side effect of cancer treatment. It is the accumulation of lymph fluid under fatty tissues on the skin and this causes swelling known as edema.

A major side effect of cancer treatment is hair loss and hair thinning referred to as alopecia. Cancer treatment may cause infections. These are usually more severe and harder to treat than regular infections. Sometimes, when a person receives cancer treatments, their risk of getting cancer in the future increases. These are secondary cancers. There are also emotional side effects to having cancer. These include coping with cancer in everyday life. It is sometimes difficult because one must balance their day-to-day activities while suffering from cancer. They may sometimes be distressed, suffer anxiety, fear, and depression.

How to Minimize Side Effects of Cancer Treatment

There are some ways to minimize and even reduce oral complications arising due to cancer therapy. Palifermin is a one of the most useful drugs for patients with hematologic malignancies. One can also reduce oral side effects of cancer treatment by using radiation techniques that spare the salivary gland.

Radioprotectants help reduce the risk of xerostomia or dry mouth in patients. Physicians should encourage patients to maintain oral hygiene. They should also work alongside dentists in order to control and prevent infections that could occur because of cancer treatments. They should encourage their patients to maintain good nutrition in order to ensure they remain healthy.

Hair loss or alopecia is an inevitable side effect of cancer treatment. The hair loss occurs because chemotherapy harms the hair forming cells. This usually begins when a patient is within two to three weeks of chemotherapy. Since it is inevitable, there are only ways to manage it before and after it occurs. One of them is to treat hair gently to prevent it from falling out. This may include patting in dry and using mild shampoos. One may also simply cut their hair short or shave their heads using electric shavers in order to prevent cutting themselves. One may also get a hairpiece or a wig that matches their hair color. When the hair falls out, one needs to shield it from the sun and cold by wearing hats. Usually, hair starts growing back two to three months after chemotherapy is over.

What of Infections during Cancer Treatment?

Infections occur frequently during cancer treatment. Preventative measures are important in order to reduce the chances of acquiring infection. Patients require washing their hands using soap and water and inquire about when they should use hand sanitizers. They also need to stay extra clean by brushing their teeth after meals using soft brushes, and keeping their catheters clean and dry.

They should avoid getting cuts, by using electric shavers as opposed to razors; avoid squeezing pimples, and cleaning themselves gently to avoid injuries. They should also try to keep away from pathogens. This means that they should avoid sick people, avoid cleaning up after their pets, and wash any raw foods thoroughly.

Cancer Education and Sensitization

Some of the recommendations in the care of cancer include educating the public about cancer. This is helpful because it will allow more people likely to have cancer to receive diagnoses and treatment. It will help them understand cancer patients and create a favorable environment for their wellbeing. Patients with cancer should have platforms in which they should engage each other in order to share experiences and help each other through the difficult process of cancer treatment. Cancer patients should also receive education on how to manage the side effects of cancer treatment.

Dealing with cancer is difficult. It’s psychologically and physically taxing-and that’s on the cancer patient. So it would help greatly if everyone around them could lay off the pressure, judgment, castigation and anything else negative; and help ease the process. They should also have psychological support throughout the process in order to ensure that they go through the entire treatment process without getting emotional side effects such as depression and anxiety.

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