Cancer is known to have existed for nearly 4000 years or perhaps longer. The oldest piece of evidence indicating the existence of cancer was found in Egyptian mummies dating back to 1600 BCE. Ever since different civilizations throughout history have attempted to cure the disease. According to Elliss-Brookes et al. (2012), the likelihood of being cured of cancer depends on its stage inside the body. In addition, it is believed that some cancers are harder to cure compared to others. Presently, the standard treatment is the best available method of confronting cancer. The treatment is available depending on the type and phase of the disease. This paper discusses cancer, including the approach to cancer care, cancer complications and side effects, and the ways of addressing the side effects.
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In 2012, over one and half million people were diagnosed with cancer in the United States. Such a large number of people suffering from the disease call for the adoption of proper measures to care for those affected, whether directly or indirectly. In addition to the large number, cancer is also unique due to the myth and fear surrounding it. Nevertheless, advanced screening methods and early detection allow people who have cancer to live normal and healthy lives while ensuring that the cancer stage does not progress. In a considerable number of cases, patients have been healed completely of the disease.
Despite the advances in technology, there is no universal treatment for all cancer patients. Cancer presents itself differently in people, thus causing the need to develop an individualized treatment plan for each cancer patient. Another challenge with managing cancer is that the disease is unpredictable. It affects people, regardless of their age, lifestyle, or activity. Notwithstanding, it is believed that healthy eating habits and being physically active can help cancer patients to live longer and healthier lives. Besides, the early diagnosis of cancer is seen as an important aspect of managing the disease. Conversely, late detection is associated with failed treatment and the subsequent death of patients. As a result, people are often encouraged to take cancer screen tests regularly to facilitate early detection.
The Diagnosis and Staging of Cancer
Diagnosis is the first step in the care of cancer. It involves performing tests to establish whether any tumor is visible. As Elliss-Brookes et al. (2012) explain, the diagnosis of cancer is important since it assists doctors to decide the form of treatment that is suitable, otherwise known as a personalized cancer treatment. Importantly, not all tumors imply the presence of cancer. As such, some growths are not particularly malignant. Hence, it is important to establish whether a patient has a cancerous tumor before proceeding with the treatment. In addition, the effects of cancer vary depending on the person. It is for this reason that tumors from the same body site will differ significantly from an individual to the next. The diagnosis procedure involves an imaging process to locate the tumor. After imaging, the next stage involves taking a sample for testing, a process known as a biopsy. When selecting a cancer test, the doctor considers several aspects, including the patient’s age, mental status, type of cancer suspected, and the symptoms.
After establishing the presence of cancer in a patient’s body, the next step involves staging. Staging is the process of determining the extent of the spread of malignant cells in the body. Just like diagnosis, staging assists the doctor to establish the seriousness of the patient’s cancer and hence develop a prognosis, as well as a suitable treatment plan. Additionally, through staging, the doctor can decide the best clinical trials to be implemented for the patient. In total, doctors apply four types of staging, namely, clinical staging, pathologic staging, post-therapy staging, and restaging. According to McPhail et al. (2013), staging is carried out following the common knowledge regarding how cancer develops and grows. For this reason, four main factors are involved when deciding the staging to carry out. The factors include where the first tumor is located, the size of the tumor, whether a lymph node is affected, and/or whether cancer has affected distant body parts.
Three Complications of Cancer
Typically cancer treatment causes patients to experience pain that may range from medium to excruciating levels. This pain is managed by the use of round-the-clock pain medication. However, the problem arises where the cancer patient experiences occasional breakthrough pain. Davies (2014) defines BTCP as a sudden intense increase in pain that occurs in patients, despite the fact that they are under common pain medication. BTCP poses a challenge to the patients and the entire cancer care setup. The management of BTCP costs the healthcare system about five times the cost of managing ordinary pain-related cases.
Weight loss is a common tale sign in persons who have cancer. Weight loss in cancer patients occurs when the body produces cytokines (substances meant to fight cancer). Consequently, cytokines lead to weight loss, the loss of muscle, as well as a decrease in muscles. Besides, cancer treatment can lead to a loss of appetite. According to Mcphail et al. (2013), radiation and chemotherapy cause the patient to lose appetite, hence reducing their overall food intake. As a result, weight loss ensues. Similarly, the above-mentioned forms of cancer treatment may occasion nausea, voting, and mouth sores, which may adversely affect a patient’s ability to eat.
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Nausea affects between 20 and 30 percent of the cancer patients while vomiting occurs in 20 percent of the patients. According to Monje and Dietrich (2012), nausea and vomiting increase in severity depending on the stage of cancer. The two effects are at their worst toward the end of life. Concerning pain and weight loss, nausea, and hence vomiting can result from the cancer treatment process. For instance, opioid is known to induce nausea in cancer patients, particularly within the first days of use. Nausea and vomiting can be disturbing to the patient to the extent of affecting the quality of their life.
The Side Effects of Treatment
The treatment of cancer is perhaps the most painful ordeal that a person could experience. From excruciating chemotherapy and radiotherapy to the occasional BTCP, few other treatments make cancer management complicated. As such, cancer pain is the most worrying side effect of the treatment process. Addressing cancer pain requires patients to be on a medication round the clock. Additionally, patients may need to take powerful medication, particularly if BTCP occurs. Another common side effect is fatigue where the patient is often drained. Sometimes, fatigue is accompanied by the shortness of breath that causes extreme discomfort for the patient. Cancer treatment may also cause diarrhea and constipation. While diarrhea occurs in everyone from time to time, the prevalence among cancer patients is particularly high. It is believed that predisposing factors such as cancer treatment, stress and anxiety, and even cancer itself lead to a high frequency of constipation for cancer patients. Other side effects include brain and nervous complications, including chemical changes in the patient’s body.
Methods to Lessen Physical and Psychological Effects
As explained earlier, different people experience different effects from cancer, a factor that causes physicians to design individualized treatment programs for each patient. However, some side effects such as those discussed above are common to most patients undergoing cancer treatment. For instance, fatigue can be managed by getting enough rest and sleep. In addition, an exercise program may help to lessen the feeling of constant exhaustion. Cancer pain is managed by taking round-the-clock pain medication as prescribed by the physician. It is worth noting that such pain medication should be taken as prescribed by the doctor for safety, as well as avoiding developing tolerance. Finally, nausea and vomiting can be managed by controlling the reflex that causes them, usually through prescribed medication.
Other side effects are rather psychological, for example, shock, fear, and depression. Cancer care is designed to address these psychological challenges among others by integrating psychological care in the treatment program. This process is often done through counseling. According to McPhail et al. (2013), addressing the psychological welfare of patients can help them to become relaxed and hence cope better with the treatment program.
Cancer is one of the threats to the existence of humankind, owing to a large number of people who succumb to the disease world over. Luckily, various treatments assist in managing the disease. Such treatments may lead to healing, specifically where the disease is detected early. However, cancer treatment presents with it some daunting challenges such as cancer pain, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting among others. It is for this reason that the care-of-cancer programs are designed to manage most of these side effects depending on the individual.
Davies, A. N. (2014). Breakthrough cancer pain. Current Pain and Headache Reports, 18(6), 1-5.
Elliss-Brookes, L., McPhail, S., Ives, A., Greenslade, M., Shelton, J., Hiom, S., & Richards, M. (2012). Routes to diagnosis for cancer–determining the patient journey using multiple routine data sets. British Journal of Cancer, 107(8), 1220-1226.
McPhail, S., Elliss-Brookes, L., Shelton, J., Ives, A., Greenslade, M., Vernon, S.,… Richards, M. (2013). Emergency presentation of cancer and short-term mortality. British Journal of Cancer, 109(8), 2027-2034.
Monje, M., & Dietrich, J. (2012). Cognitive side effects of cancer therapy demonstrate a functional role for adult neurogenesis. Behavioral Brain Research, 227(2), 376-379.