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Cancer refers to the development of abnormal cells that grow and divide uncontrollably. They possess the ability to destroy normal body tissues and spread throughout the body employing the lymph system and blood. Cancer is caused by mutations to the DNA within the cells. The DNA inside a cell contains a set of instructions guiding the cell on how to grow and divide. Any disruption in these instructions allows a cell to become cancerous.
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Symptoms of Cancer:
The symptoms associated with cancer are quite varied and depend on the location of cancerous cells, where it has spread, and the tumor size. Some cancers can be felt like a lump on the breast or testicle can be an indicator of cancer in that location. Melanoma(skin cancer) is often noted by a change in a mole on the skin. While some oral cancers show white patches inside the mouth or white spots on the tongue.
General signs and symptoms associated with cancer include:
- Persistent cough or blood-tinged saliva
- Change in bowel habits
- Lump or thickening of an area that can be felt under the skin
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Unintended weight loss or weight gain
- Skin changes like yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes
- Fever or night sweats for an unknown reason
- Indigestion/discomfort after eating
Basic Tests To Diagnose Cancer:
- Prostate-Specific Antigen(PSA) Test: A sample of blood is drawn from a vein in the arm and analyzed for PSA. Prostate-Specific Antigen is a substance that is produced naturally by prostate glands. It is normal for a small amount of PSA to be in your bloodstream. If the amount of PSA present in your bloodstream is higher than the normal level, then it may indicate prostate cancer.
- Protein Electrophoresis: Protein Electrophoresis is a test to measure specific proteins in the blood. This test separates proteins in the blood based on their electrical charge. Protein Electrophoresis test is often used to detect abnormal substances known as M proteins. The presence of M proteins shows signs of a cancer called myeloma. Myeloma affects plasma cells in the bone marrow.
- Pap Smear Test: A Pap smear test is a screening procedure for cervical cancer which tests for the presence of cancerous cells in your cervix. During the routine medical procedure, cells from the cervix are gently scraped away and examined for abnormal growth.
- Mammogram: A mammogram is an X-Ray of the breast. Screening Mammogram is routinely administered to detect breast cancer in those women who have no apparent symptoms. However, a Diagnostic Mammogram is used to determine if symptoms like a lump, breast pain, nipple discharge, thickening of the skin on the breast, and changes in the breast size/shape are indicative of the presence of cancer.
- Transvaginal Ultrasound Scan(TVS): A transvaginal scan is an ultrasound scan that uses a small probe as a scanner. The scanner is placed directly into the vagina that gives a detailed picture of the inside of the womb. The transvaginal scan checks if there are any changes in the thickness of the womb lining that might have been caused by the presence of cancerous cells.
- PET – CT Scan: A PET-CT scan combines a Computed Tomography(CT) scan and a Positron Emission Tomography(PET) scan that gives detailed information about cancer. The CT scan takes a series of x-rays from all around the body and puts them together to create a 3-dimensional image. Whereas, PET scan uses a mildly radioactive drug to show areas of the body where cells are more active than normal.
- Biopsy: A biopsy is a medical procedure to remove a piece of tissue or cell samples from a body to examine it more closely. The most common types of biopsy used in cancer diagnosis are:
- Fine Needle Biopsy
- Core Needle Biopsy
- Core Biopsy
- Excisional/Incisional Biopsy
- Endoscopic Biopsy
What you should do:
- Be aware of any pre-appointment restrictions
- Note down any symptoms you are experiencing
- Jot down key personal information, including any major stresses or recent health changes
- Write down your family’s history of cancer
- Make a list of all medications that you are taking
- Consider taking a family member along
- Write down queries to ask your doctor.
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Cancer Treatment Options:
Several treatment options are available for curing cancer. These treatments depend on the stage, type, and extent of cancer. The most common treatment options for cancer include-
- Surgery: If the tumor is limited to its site of origin, then the tumor along with lymph nodes and surrounding tissues can be removed surgically. This surgical procedure is carried out using either laser or conventional instruments.
- Radiation Therapy: This therapy includes treating cancer with ionizing radiation. The cancerous cells and their genetic substance will be destroyed by the ionizing radiation in the area being treated.
- Hormone Therapy: This therapy uses hormones changing the way they help cancer spread throughout the body. This therapy is used for treating breast cancer and prostate cancer.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drug cells that help in destroying the cancer cells by stopping their growth at a certain point in their life cycles. These drugs are provided by injecting into a muscle, orally or into the vein (intravenously). This therapy is offered in cycles of alternating treatments and rest periods.
- Immunotherapy: This therapy indirectly or directly uses the immune system of the body to fight against cancer. Immunotherapy also decreases the side effects developed due to other cancer treatments. Systemic immunotherapy treats the complete body by administering an agent such as the protein interferon alpha that can shrink tumors.
- Stem-Cell Transplant: A stem cell transplant can use your stem cells or stem cells from a donor. It is a procedure to replace defective/damaged cells in patients whose normal blood cells are affected by cancer. Stem cell transplant is commonly used to treat leukemia(cancer that affects the blood) and lymphoma(cancer that affects the lymphatic system).
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