Cancer and Common Treatments

Cancer: An Overview
  • What is Cancer?

Cancer is not a disease in the normal scheme of things that can be spread from person to person but occurs as a result of unregulated cell division.
Therefore in order to understand cancer, it's helpful to first know what happens when normal cells become cancer cells.

Cells in the body grow and divide in a controlled way to produce more cells as they are needed to keep the body healthy. When cells become old or damaged, they die and are replaced with new cells.
Sometimes the DNA of a cell that contains the control over division can become damaged or changed affecting normal cell growth and division. When this happens, cells do not die when they should and new cells form when the body does not need them. The extra cells may form a mass of tissue called a tumor.
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Tumors that are formed can exist in two conditions
1. Benign Tumors
  • Are not cancerous because the cells stay in one place and do not invade ths surronding tissue
  • Little is known as to what controls a benign tumor and stops it from becoming cancerous
  • Benign tumors are most often removed surgically for reasons such as discomfort, risk of breaking off and floating around the body, and also the ability to change from the benighn condition
2. Malignant Tumors
  • Cancerous because they invade surrounding tissues
  • Can break loose and travel to other locations in the body establishes cancer in several locations other than the origin when this occurs it is considered a metastatic tumor

Treatments:
One of the most well known forms of cancer treatments is chemotherapy but what exactly is it?
  • Chemotherapy is the injection into the blood stream of chemicals that can selectively kill cells involved in rapid cell dvision
  • Chemo drugs can be administered as a pill taken at home, through a shot like a vaccine, or most commonly through an IV.
  • Typically chemo works in two ways:
  1. Drugs like Cisplatin block DNA replication of cells
  2. Other drugs like Taxol block mitosis.
* Chemotherapy is designed to kill the fast out of control cancer cells in the body however, certain normal cells in the body grow quickly and the chemo will generally kill these too which can cause dangerous side effects.
Normal Cells Affected by Chemotherapy:
  • Hair Cells- Causes loss of hair all over the body
  • Bone Marrow- Causes a tired feeling
  • Skin and Mouth- Causes sores in the mouth and dry skin
  • Stomach and Intestines- Causes constant nausea, vomiting, diarrea, and can also disintegrate the lining of the intestine.

Another treatment that people are starting to use widely is radiation therapy. But, what is radiation therapy?
  • Radiation Therapy is the use of high energy rays to kill cancer cells and reduce tumors.
  • Radiation therapy may be external or internal. External radiation, the type most often used, comes from a machine outside the body, and is usually given on an outpatient basis. Internal radiation is implanted into or near the tumor in small capsules or other containers. It may require a hospital stay.
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External Radiation:usually is given on an outpatient basis; most patients do not need to stay in the hospital. External radiation therapy is used to treat most types of cancer, including cancer of the bladder, brain, breast, cervix, larynx, lung, prostate, and vagina. In addition, external radiation may be used to relieve pain or ease other problems when cancer spreads to other parts of the body from the primary site.
Intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT) is a form of external radiation that is given during surgery. IORT is used to treat localized cancers that cannot be completely removed or that have a high risk of recurring (coming back) in nearby tissues. After all or most of the cancer is removed, one large, high-energy dose of radiation is aimed directly at the tumor site during surgery (nearby healthy tissue is protected with special shields). The patient stays in the hospital to recover from the surgery. IORT may be used in the treatment of thyroid and colorectal cancers, gynecological cancers, cancer of the small intestine, and cancer of the pancreas. It is also being studied in clinical trials (research studies) to treat some types of brain tumors and pelvic sarcomas in adults.
Prophylactic cranial irradiation (PCI) is external radiation given to the brain when the primary cancer (for example, small cell lung cancer) has a high risk of spreading to the brain.

Internal Radiation:uses radiation that is placed very close to or inside the tumor. The radiation source is usually sealed in a small holder called an implant. Implants may be in the form of thin wires, plastic tubes called catheters, ribbons, capsules, or seeds. The implant is put directly into the body. Internal radiation therapy may require a hospital stay.
Internal radiation is usually delivered in one of two ways, each of which is described below. Both methods use sealed implants.

Interstitial radiation therapy is inserted into tissue at or near the tumor site. It is used to treat tumors of the head and neck, prostate, cervix, ovary, breast, and perianal and pelvic regions. Some women treated with external radiation for breast cancer receive a “booster dose” of radiation that may use interstitial radiation or external radiation.
Intracavitary or intraluminal radiation therapy is inserted into the body with an applicator. It is commonly used in the treatment of uterine cancer. Researchers are also studying these types of internal radiation therapy for other cancers, including breast, bronchial, cervical, gallbladder, oral, rectal, tracheal, uterine, and vaginal.
Systemic radiation therapy uses radioactive materials such as iodine 131 and strontium 89. The materials may be taken by mouth or injected into the body. Systemic radiation therapy is sometimes used to treat cancer of the thyroid and adult non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Researchers are investigating agents to treat other types of cancer.

What kind of side effects will you experience when you undergo radiation therapy?
  • Depending on the area being radiated, it will have different effects on the body.
  1. Head or Neck area: Mouth and Dental Problems
  2. Pelvis: Digestive, Bladder, and Fertility Problems
  3. Stomach and Abdomen:Nausea and Diarrhea
  4. Breast and Chest:Problems Swallowing, coughing, and shortness of breath