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Approach to Cancer Care: Diagnosing and Treatment

Introduction

Cancer refers to any disease that is characterized by abnormal cell growth and the potential to spread to different body organs and tissues (Eyre, Lange, & Morris, 2002). Common signs and symptoms include enlarged lymph nodes, inexplicable weight loss, tumors, persistent headaches, frequent infections, chronic pain in different body parts, loss of appetite, and persistent low-grade fever (Hayat, 2010). Researchers have identified more than 100 different types of cancer that affect different regions of the body. Cancer is harmful to the body only when cells divide uncontrollably, form large tumors, and interfere with various body functions such as digestion, respiration, secretion of hormones, and circulation of body fluids (Copstead, & Banasik, 2012). This paper will discuss the process of diagnosing and staging cancer, the complications that are common among patients, and the various treatment remedies available. In addition, it will explore the side effects of different treatment approaches as well as the methods applied in the mitigation of related physical and psychological effects.

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Diagnosis and staging of cancer

Cancer is diagnosed through careful observation and analysis of symptoms as well as the application of advanced diagnosis methods. The appearance of certain signs and symptoms in a patient is the first indications of the presence of cancer. However, observation of signs and symptoms alone is insufficient because the symptoms could have been caused by other diseases. For satisfactory diagnosis, medical caregivers perform several medical tests on samples collected from different organs and body tissues. Additional information is obtained by conducting complete blood counts and analyzing electrolyte levels in the body. Advanced methods of diagnosis include imaging and endoscopy. Imaging includes the use of techniques such as X-rays, PET scans, CT scans, MRI scans, and ultrasound scans (Hayat, 2010). These techniques identify and locate tumors in the different parts of the body. Endoscopy involves the insertion of an endoscope through the esophagus to look for any abnormalities in the body (Eyre at al., 2002). The final stage involves microscopic observation of cell specimens to determine whether they are cancerous. Staging occurs after diagnosis and it involves the determination of the disease’s severity and spread across the body. Staging cancer is important because it aids in designing appropriate treatment plans. The process is based on cancer progression and occurs immediately after diagnosis. Medical caregivers consider certain elements when classifying cancer. These elements include the site of the tumor, tumor grade and size, number of tumors in a specific region, and the state of lymph nodes (Hayat, 2010). The TNM system is the most widely used cancer classification system that is based on certain features that include the size of the tumor (T), cancer spread to lymph nodes (N), and presence of tumors in certain body regions (metastasis) (M) (Eyre at al., 2002). Different classifications generated from the system signify the severity of cancer. Other programs use a different system of staging that classifies different cancer types into five main categories that include in situ, localized, regional, distant, and unknown (Copstead, & Banasik, 2012).

Cancer complications

Examples of complications that emanate from cancer include fatigue, pain, chemical imbalances, and infections. Infections are among the most common complications in cancer patients. They are characterized by antimicrobial resistance in certain bacteria and fungi as well as an increase in invasive fungal diseases. Infections that appear as a complex of cancer include pneumonia, gastrointestinal infections, and febrile neutropenia (Eyre at al., 2002). Pain is usually caused by the physical contact between tumors and bones, nerves, body organs, and tissues. Spinal cord compression and the spread of cancer into bones are also sources of pain. Fatigue in patients is caused by malignant and non-malignant conditions such as chronic infection, sleep disorders, immune dysfunction, muscle dysfunction, multiple sclerosis, changes in skeletal muscle proteins, and release of intracellular metabolites due to processes such as cell lyses (Hayat, 2010). Other causes of fatigue include dehydration, anemia, chronic hypoxia, and insomnia. Chemical imbalances increase the risk of infection and are characterized by dehydration, constipation, and confusion (Eyre at al., 2002).

Treatment options and their side effects

The main treatment options for cancer include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, hormone therapy, and gene therapy (Hayat, 2010). In many cases, patients usually undergo different treatment remedies for full recovery. Surgery involves the removal of cancer cells from the body. For instance, it could involve the removal of an affected body organ or tissue. Side effects include loss of appetite, fatigue, pain, bleeding, increased risk of infection, organ dysfunction, lymphedema, and organ damage (Ko, 2008). Damaged body organs and tissues take long periods to fully recover. Therefore, they cause massive pain to patients. Radiotherapy involves the killing of affected cells using radiation. This method clears cancer by killing the active molecules of cancerous cells. Radiotherapy utilizes high-energy radiation that has severe side effects such as hair loss, fatigue, skin reactions, loss of appetite, and weight loss (Copstead, & Banasik, 2012). Chemotherapy is the use of chemicals to interfere with the process of cell division. The chemicals damage the cells’ proteins or DNA in order to stop them from multiplying (Ko, 2008). Chemotherapy is mainly used to treat cancer that has spread to other body parts because the drugs used circulate through body fluids to affected organs and tissues. The most common side effects include hair loss, vomiting, nauseas, fatigue, and changes in appetite (Copstead, & Banasik, 2012). Immunotherapy involves the stimulation of the body’s immune system in order to elicit responses that clear cancer cells (Ko, 2008). Procedures such as systemic immunotherapy use certain agents that shrink tumors and prevent them from multiplying. Bone marrow transplantation is a form of immunotherapy. The side effects of immunotherapy include fever, rashes, flu-like symptoms, drop in blood pressure, lung problems, and thyroid complications. Gene therapy involves the introduction of specific genes that code for cell division processes in order to limit cell multiplication in localized regions. For instance, gene cells that control the process of cell division could be damaged and therefore in need of replacement (Copstead, & Banasik, 2012). Gene therapy is a new treatment remedy that is not widely applied due to unavailability of sufficient research regarding its effectiveness.

Methods to lessen physical and psychological effects

Cancer is associated with numerous emotions that have adverse psychological effects. These emotions include fear, anxiety, depression, anger, vulnerability, sadness, and frustration (Ko, 2008). Psychological care is an important component of cancer care because it helps patients deal with the psychological effects of the disease. Provision of palliative care is one of the methods used to lessen the physical and psychological effects of cancer. The main aim of this method is to improve the quality of life of the patients by changing their outlook and attitude regarding their illness. Physical effects of cancer are addressed using approaches such as nutrition therapy, physical therapy, relaxation and techniques (Ko, 2008). Psychotherapy and counseling are used to eradicate anxiety, depression, stress, sadness, and other emotions that increase pain. It is imperative for patients to talk to professionals about their feelings in order to enable them cope better with treatment and related side effects (Copstead, & Banasik, 2012). Lifestyle changes such as involvement in physical exercise, relaxation, and proper diet are also recommended for cancer patients. In certain cases, medical caregivers administer certain drugs to alleviate pain and allow patients to relax.

Conclusion

Cancer refers to any disease that has abnormal cell multiplication and the potential to spread to different body organs and tissues. Cancer diagnosis involves several steps that include observation of signs and symptoms, performance of medical tests, and observation of samples under a microscope. Imaging and screening machines are used in advanced diagnosis procedures involving internal organs and tissues. Final diagnosis is made by observing cancer cells under a microscope. Cancer staging is done after diagnosis and involves the classification of cancer depending on its severity. Fatigue, pain, chemical imbalances, and fatigue are examples of complications associated with cancer. Treatment for cancer includes surgery, immunotherapy, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and gene therapy. Side effects of treatment include changes in eating and drinking habits, irregular sleep patterns, hair loss, exhaustion, vomiting, and intense pain. Medical caregivers use psychotherapy, counseling, pain-alleviation drugs, nutritional therapy, and physical therapy to lessen the psychological and physical effects of treatment. It is important for cancer patients to receive counseling services because of the difficulties that they encounter in dealing with the psychological effects of the disease as well as its treatment.

References

Copstead, L. C., & Banasik, J. L. (2012). Pathophysiology (5th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Saunders Elsevier.

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Eyre, H., Lange, D., & Morris, L. (2002). Informed Decisions: The Complete Book of Cancer Diagnosis, Treatment, and Recovery. New York: American Cancer Society.

Hayat, M. A. (2010). Methods of Cancer Diagnosis, Therapy, and Prognosis: General Overviews, Head and Neck Cancer and Thyroid Cancer. New York: Springer Science & Business Media.

Ko, A. (2008). Everyone’s Guide to cancer Therapy: How cancer is Diagnosed, Treated, and Managed Day to Day. London: Andrew McMeel Publishing.

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