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Cancer: Causes, Effects, and Treatments

Updated on October 20, 2014

What Causes Cancer

Cancer refers to a large number of abnormal cells that cause disease. These cells divide uncontrollably and destroy normal body tissue. Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the United States. When and if cancer is diagnosed in its earliest stage through screening tests, finding a cure is likely.

Cancer is caused by mutations to the DNA cells. The DNA inside cells contain a set of instructions telling the cell how to grow and divide. When changes occur to these cells, it may allow them to become cancerous. Cells can grow and divide rapidly making a kind of mutation called oncogene. Genes called tumor suppressor genes recognize the rapid growth and can stop these mutated cells, although these may also become less effective in their role. When errors of genes occur DNA repair genes could identify and correct the mutations, but these may miss the errors and the abnormal cells grow and divide more than normal.

The causes of genetic mutation can be hereditary. It is possible that mutations are being passed from one generation to the next. It may be caused from hormones, viruses, or chronic inflammation. On the other hand, it may be caused from ultraviolet light (excessive sun exposure), carcinogens (cigarettes, secondhand smoke), (asbestos, benzene, alcohol, unsafe sex), or radiation: all forces outside the body. Genetic mutation research shows that one gene mutation is necessary to cause cancer. The genetic mutation begins the cancer process, and the cancer causing substance could further the development of cell growth. It may take decades to develop cancer and is commonly found in adults 65 and older, but cancer can be diagnosed at any age.

Effects - Physical and Economical

Depending on the type of cancer, it may spread or it may reoccur. The greatest frequency of cancer diagnoses in the United States, excluding non-melanoma skin cancers are as follows:

  • ± Bladder Cancer
  • ± Breast Cancer
  • ± Colon and Rectal Cancer
  • ± Endometrial Cancer
  • ± Kidney (Renal Cell) Cancer (2 types)
  • ± Leukemia (5+ related types)
  • ± Lung Cancer (#1 most common)
  • ± Melanoma
  • ± Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
  • ± Pancreatic Cancer
  • ± Prostate Cancer
  • ± Thyroid Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, the types of cancers in this list qualified because there were 40,000 cases or more in 2010 alone. The number of estimated cases of the cancers listed above in 2010 is an unbelievable 1,223,991. Estimated deaths in 2010 from these cancers: 404,817. The American Cancer Society estimated 12.4 million cases are being diagnosed each year, with more than half of these in developing countries.

According to the American Cancer Society Press Release on Global Economic Cost, cancer has the greatest economic impact. This research study shows that cancer has the most devastating economic impact of any cause of death in the world, followed by heart disease and stroke.

“Cancer’s human toll, in terms of suffering and death, is tragic and largely preventable. We know that without immediate intervention, the burden of cancer will grow enormously in low- and middle income countries, with demands on health care systems and economic costs that are more than these developing economies can bear.” - John R. Seffrin, PhD, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society.

The economic financial toll of cancer is 20% higher than the leading heart disease, at $895 billion. Cancer apparently represents the single largest drain of economic funds in the US compared with other non-communicable diseases (not transmissible by direct contact) and communicable diseases (transmitted easily from and to anyone) as well as other infectious diseases.

American Cancer Society, 2010 U.S. Estimated Cancer Deaths in Percentages
American Cancer Society, 2010 U.S. Estimated Cancer Deaths in Percentages | Source

Cancer Treatments - Medical and Holistic

Some cancer treatments are listed below with a short definition. Some treatments are used in conjunction with another but they all involve the removal or the attempt to remove the rapidly dividing mutated cells.

  • ± Surgery – Cancer cells can be removed if cells have not yet spread.
  • ± Mastectomy – Surgery for removal of breast cancer.
  • ± Prostatectomy – Surgery for removal of prostate cancer.
  • ± Lung Cancer Surgery – Surgery for kinds of lung cancer.
  • ± Radiation Therapy – Administered either externally with external beam radiotherapy or internally with brachytherapy. This damages surrounding cells of targeted area but destroying the mutated cells in hopes of most normal cells to recover.
  • ± Chemotherapy or Combination Chemotherapy – Cytotoxic drugs are administered of two or more at a time targeting the division of cells. Chemotherapy has a high potential to harm healthy tissue and is not specific to cancer cells but all cells in general.
  • ± Targeted Therapies – Medicinal use targeting the deregulated proteins of cancer cells; monoclonal antibody therapy and photodynamic therapy are included as targeted therapies.
  • ± Immunotherapy – Vaccines are used to induce the immune system to fight tumors or cancerous cells and are used in conjunction with Chemo, Radiation, and/or Surgery.
  • ± Hormonal Therapy – Removal or blockage of hormones: estrogen and testosterone, or given hormones like progestagens (steroids).
  • ± Angiogenesis Inhibitors – Prevents growth of blood vessels in tumors.

Treatments may cause emotional and physiological changes to the patients that affect their caretakers, loved ones, and friends. Emotional effects from cancer may cause depression with high anxiety levels that increase stress. Cancers that are of the male or female reproductive system, such as prostate, cervical and colorectal cancers, interfere with sexual function reducing sex drive and altering the hormonal balance. As stated above, hormonal therapy is used as treatment. Sleep disorders create symptoms like fatigue (the most common), pain and nausea.

Full-spectrum lighting or daylight significantly lowers stress hormones: ACTH and cortisol. For example, Fritz Hollwich theorized that the absence of light, partially or totally, creates a significant upset in the physiological and emotional stability of humans. Physiological and environmental stressors participate in the development of autoimmune diseases and many degenerative diseases, which both include cancer. Light exposure at certain intensities during the day for particular durations can cure some kinds of insomnia and improve the body’s immune function.

Anxiety from treatment, the unfamiliarity of treatment, or the clinical environment contribute to stress, however, the less stress a patient feels, the more likely they are to recover. Commonweal, a retreat center in Bolinas, California, offers a program called the Cancer Retreat Program. One week of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual healing guides the patient through mainstream and integrative therapies, to find a balance between mind, body, and spirit. Cancer patients in any stage can attend this educational program and the program fee may be a lot smaller than medical bills with high chances of recession. In addition to mainstream therapy and integrative therapy, we have the option of chromotherapy. This science of healing with colors is bathing in colored lights while meditating. Blue-green lights correct weaknesses in the immune system and orange lights stimulate the immune system, both beneficial to the healing process for example.

The widespread anomalies of cancer cells spreading not only through the bodies, but also through the population in ever-increasing numbers in deaths and in economic drains are cause for concern. Though there are dozens of treatments, both medical and holistic, the individuals must decide how to use the treatment best suited for them.

Works Cited

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. 1998-2010. cancer - Bing Health.

National Cancer Institute. U.S. National Institutes of Health. 2010. Common Cancer Types – National Cancer Institute.

The American Cancer Society and LIVESTRONG® Launch First Global Economic Cost of Cancer Report. Aug. 2010. Press Release. MediaRoom - Press Releases

Dictionary.com, LLC. 2011. Communicable | Define Communicable at Dictionary.com.

Non-communicable | Define Non-communicable at Dictionary.com.

E-How Demand Media, Inc. 1999-2011. Cheryl Jones. Psychosocial Effects of Cancer | eHow.com

Wikipedia – Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 2011. Management of cancer - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Chemotherapy and Cancer Treatment, Coping with Side Effects. 2004. MedicineNet, Inc. 1996-2011. http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=21716.

The Power of Color – Creating Healthy Interior Spaces. 1995. John Wiley and Sons, Inc. Marberry & Zagon. (pp. 12, 13, 22, 35, 80, 85)

Commonweal, Cancer Help Programs. Commonweal Cancer Help Brochure. http://www.commonweal.org/programs/cancer-help.html.

Color, Sixth edition. 2010. Pearson Education, Inc. Zelanski, Fisher (p. 41)

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