Cancer – the dreaded diseases

Cancer – the dreaded diseases

Cancer is a collective term for a wide variety of malignant diseases that can affect practically all human organs. Colon cancer and lung cancer are prevalent in Germany – alongside breast cancer as the most common cancer in women and prostate cancer as the most common cancer in men. New cells are constantly created in the human body, and old, diseased, or broken cells break down or die off. Different body cells get different ages: red blood cells around four months, hair several years, and the age of nerve cells corresponds to the age – that’s why nerve damage is so dramatic.

Causes: how does cancer develop?

Cancer means a cell breaks out of this structure and forms a new uncontrolled cell cluster. A mutation at the genetic level is often responsible for this process. Many carcinogenic factors also influence the control mechanisms that stimulate or inhibit cell growth. These include infectious agents such as papilloma or hepatitis viruses or Helicobacter, addictive substances such as alcohol and nicotine, unprotected sunlight, but also free radicals and food components such as acrylamide, which is produced when barbecuing, or toiletries such as deodorants with parabens.

Diseases such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis are also associated with an increased risk of cancer. The terms polyp, adenoma and carcinoma, which denote different tissue structures, are often used in connection with cancer. In women, breast cancer is both the most common type of cancer and the cancer that kills most women – in men, prostate cancer is the most common, but lung cancer is more deadly. In the cancer registers of individual federal states, precise records are kept of which type of cancer occurs, how often it occurs per year, and how many people die from it.

 

First symptoms of cancer

Unfortunately, many cancers do not cause any symptoms or complaints for a long time, so only consistent cancer screening can help to track down malignant diseases. Many types of cancer damage the immune system – for example, in the case of leukaemia, the functioning immune cells in the bone marrow are suppressed – so exhaustion, infections and increased susceptibility to disease can be the first symptoms of cancer. Itchy skin changes that bleed easily can be actinic keratoses and, thus, a precursor to skin cancer. You also have to get to the bottom of elevated liver values ​​- because some chronic liver inflammation promotes liver cancer. In the gastrointestinal tract, colon cancer sometimes manifests itself late with an intestinal obstruction and does not cause any symptoms beforehand.

  • Anamnesis (ask about medical history): It is sometimes possible to determine more precisely how long cancer has been present by asking specific questions. In colon cancer, for example, there is often a change in stool behaviour (more flatulence, smaller stool portions).
  • Inspection (observing), percussion  (tapping), and auscultation  (listening): Moles can be altered enough for an experienced doctor to see if they are skin cancer suspects. Lung cancer, on the other hand, can narrow the bronchi so much that the sound of breathing changes.
  • Examination of cells or tissue samples: The work of the pathologists is most important when cancer is suspected because they examine the suspicious tissue samples. In the case of leukaemia, the disease manifests itself in a changed blood composition, and body fluids such as blood, liquor, urine and stool must be scrutinized. Blood admixtures in the urine or stool are always suspected of cancer until proven otherwise!
  • Hormone tests: There are also so-called tumour markers, bodily substances produced by the tumour. In the course of a disease, one can determine whether new foci are forming – the PSA test is such a procedure for prostate cancer.
  • X-rays, ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): The imaging methods play a unique role in suspected cancer because they can be used to determine the extent of the tumour. Mammography plays a crucial role in breast cancer diagnosis. Recently, there is also a digital version that uses less radiation.
  • Endoscopy: As unpleasant as the endoscopic methods are for those affected, they are often unbeatable in early cancer detection. The new type of zoom endoscopy is an improved variant. All examinations together show how malignant the type of cancer is and how far cancer has spread in the body. This classification is called staging. Depending on the staging classification, the therapy for the affected person is determined.

Types of cancer by gender

Breast cancer leads the frequency statistics in women and prostate cancer in men. Then colon cancer and lung cancer follow in both sexes. But cancer can affect any organ.

In women, the uterus or ovaries are often affected in addition to the breast, while skin cancer or leukaemia is less common. In men, bladder cancer, stomach cancer, and kidney cancer are more common than testicular cancer or thyroid cancer.

In the case of skin cancer, a distinction is made between actinic keratosis and basaliomaspinalioma or melanoma. Luckily, liver cancer is a rare type of cancer. The spite of cancer also depends on how quickly secondary tumours (metastases) form and how sensitively cancer reacts to the available treatment options.

 

Prevention: how can I prevent it?

The two pillars of cancer prevention are avoiding cancer-causing factors and early detection of cancer. Avoidance means renunciation – and renunciation is often difficult for us. But if you realize that not only nicotine but also other ingredients are carcinogenic when smoking, that passive smoking is also very harmful and that smoking promotes lung cancer as well as tumours in the oral cavity, oesophagus and stomach – maybe it will be easier then.

Sunbathing is a balm for the soul, and with the proper sun protection – tailored to the skin type and suitable for children’s skin – it is health-promoting. On the other hand, a visit to the solarium should be carefully considered. Studies show that a diet rich in vitamins and fibre with plenty of fruit and vegetables helps prevent cancer. There are many cancer-preventing substances, such as green tea or parsley, and vitamin D also seems to help with cancer more than previously thought.

In Germany, many preventive medical check-ups are paid for by health insurance companies, whether for the skin, breast, prostate, or intestine; early detection can save lives. The offer is constantly being reviewed and increased – a nationwide mammography screening is being introduced, and Zoom endoscopy is being tested as an extension of colonoscopy.

Treatment: Forms of therapy for cancer

Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy are essential methods to fight cancer. The drugs used in chemotherapy are called cytostatics; they can destroy the bone marrow in such a way that a stem cell donation is then necessary. Most miniature instruments from micromedicine enable gentle surgery – which benefits the ailing health of a cancer patient.

Psychoneuroimmunology deals with the self-healing powers of the individual and is also used in cancer therapy. The cancer compass helps cancer patients find the right clinic, and tumour tissue can be stored in the PA—TH tumour bank after an operation. In addition, side effects such as exhaustion (fatigue), pain and nutritional problems must be treated. Pain therapy can contain opioids or, for some years now, cannabis and should be tailored to the individual. When cancer progresses and there is no cure, palliative care and hospices can ease the suffering.

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