Cancer is one of the most severe diseases that may affect an individual. It is also a rather widespread illness that is usually very difficult or even impossible to cure. On the whole, there exist a wide array of types of cancer, for cancerous growth may develop from various types of cells, and may appear in virtually any organ of the body (Stephens & Aigner, 2016). Because cancer often causes no significant symptoms at its early stages, and later, these symptoms are rarely specific, this disease is often detected at stages when even aggressive treatment will not cure the disease. The current paper provides some basic cancer information. First, the methods that can be employed to diagnose cancer are discussed, and the stages of this disease (using two different staging systems) are elaborated. After that, the various complications of cancer are listed, and a variety of side effects of treating this disease are explained. Finally, several methods that can be employed to manage the physical and psychological effects of cancer on the patient are described.
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The Diagnosis and Stages of Cancer
Generally speaking, cancer causes no signs or symptoms at the beginning. As the number of cancerous cells increases, signs and symptoms may appear; they are rarely specific (Stephens & Aigner, 2016). Many of the symptoms and signs are local (e.g., ulceration in the lungs may result in coughing with blood; testicle cancer may produce lumps). However, there are also more general symptoms such as the loss of weight, fatigue, or high temperature. Cancers are usually detected due to the onset of symptoms or as a consequence of screening. Medical tests such as radiography, computer tomography (often with contrasts), endoscopy, and some blood tests may be employed. Also, when a growth that is suspected to be cancerous is detected, it is possible to utilize biopsy to diagnose the disease and select the method for treating it (Kerr, 2016). Apart from these ways of diagnosing cancer, such methods as immunohistochemistry and cytogenetic tests may also be employed to diagnose cancer in a patient (Stephens & Aigner, 2016).
Stages of Cancer
There are two types of classifying cancer into stages. The first type of staging consists of four numbered stages (I-IV). At stage I, the tumor is quite small, is located in the place of its origins, and has not yet spread to the tissues surrounding it. At stage II, the cancerous growth is larger but has not yet invaded the surrounding tissues as well, although it might have spread into the nearby lymph nodes. At stage III, the tumor has a significant size and may have invaded the tissues surrounding the place of its origins, as well as the lymph nodes located nearby. At stage IV, cancer has already spread into the rest of the body (at least to one organ different from that where it started); these secondary growths are called metastases (Kerr, 2016; Stephens & Aigner, 2016).
The second staging system describes cancer based on 3 “scales”: tumor, node, and metastasis. The first “scale” describes the size of the tumor and its spread into the surrounding tissues; a value ranging from 1 to 4 is assigned, where 1 describes the smallest growth, and 4 indicates the largest tumors. The second “scale” assesses the invasion of cancer into lymph nodes and ranges from 0 (no spread) to 3 (invasion of numerous nodes). Finally, the third “scale” describes the invasion of cancer into other organs: 0 means cancer has not spread, while 1 means that metastases are present (Kerr, 2016; Stephens & Aigner, 2016).
Complications of Cancer, Side Effects of Treatment, and Methods to Reduce the Physical and Psychological Effects
Numerous possible complications might exist in patients with cancer. For instance, patients with cancer may develop various fungal infections; it is stated that these infections are a leading cause of death in individuals diagnosed with cancer (Stosor & Zembower, 2014, p. 130). Multiple complications such as the blood infection due to Candida krusei, the ocular infection resulting from such fungus as Candida parapsilosis, pneumonia because of Tricosporon asteroids or Pneumocystis jirovecii, rhinocerebral infection because of Rhizopus and many other disorders are often encountered in patients suffering from cancer (Stosor & Zembower, 2014, p. 131). These complications exist as separate diseases, but individuals who are suffering from cancer are likely to develop these conditions as comorbid diseases due to significantly reduced immunity (Stosor & Zembower, 2014).
Apart from fungal infections, patients with cancer may also develop complications caused by bacterial and viral agents (Stosor & Zembower, 2014). Such bacteria as Staphylococcus aureus may cause a wide array of infections, for instance, the infections of the skin and other soft tissues, endocarditis, joint and bone infections, the diseases of the bloodstream, visceral abscesses, and many others (Stosor & Zembower, 2014, pp. 92-93). Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria may cause severe infections of the respiratory tract (Stosor & Zembower, 2014, p. 98). Numerous viruses, such as Cytomegalovirus, Varicella Zoster virus, and other herpesviruses, as well as multiple adenoviruses, intestinal viruses, and many others may cause a variety of comorbid conditions, infecting different organs in the patient (Stosor & Zembower, 2014, pp. 160-169).
Also, it should be noted that patients with cancer often tend to develop complications that are at least partially connected to their psychological state. For instance, it is known that patients with cancer may often experience fatigue, insomnia, depression, and anxiety (Keyhanmehr, Kolouri, Heydarirad, Mofid, & Mosavat, 2018). Also, individuals who have been diagnosed with cancer often suffer from pains, nausea, retching, and vomiting (Keyhanmehr et al., 2018). It is paramount to stress that all these complications have a profound negative impact on the quality of life of patients.
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Side Effects of Treatment
On the whole, most methods that are utilized to treat or manage cancer have a wide array of profound side effects. For instance, chemotherapy is a type of treatment of cancer that involves the administration of cytotoxic medications to the patient (Kerr, 2016). These medicines are highly toxic to the body, which limits the doses that can be given to the patient. The side effects of chemotherapy may include myelosuppression and the damage to the immune system of the patient, gastrointestinal problems, fatigue, anemia, and many others. Another type of common treatment of cancer is radiotherapy, which involves the directed application of ionizing radiation to damage and destroy the tissues of the cancerous growth (Stephens & Aigner, 2016).
Although the X-rays are precisely targeted at the cancerous tissue, nearby tissues are also affected and damaged, although to a lesser extent. The side effects may include sores, nausea and retching, damaged epithelial tissues, swelling, infertility, fibrosis, and secondary cancer growing from the tissues damaged by the radiation (Kerr, 2016). Yet another type of cancer treatment is surgery; it is used in cases when there are no significant metastases and the cancerous growth is isolated (Kerr, 2016). Although this may be a highly effective treatment if the cancer is detected early and patients are operated promptly, it involves a direct invasion into the body, and a wide variety of side effects are possible.
Methods to Reduce the Physical and Psychological Effects of Cancer
To alleviate the profoundly adverse impact on the subjective experiences of the patient, it is possible to employ an array of methods to reduce the physical and psychological fallout of cancer (Kerr, 2016). To manage the pain that the patient experiences due to cancer, painkillers may be administered. To reduce severe nausea and vomiting, anti-emetics are provided for the diseased (Stephens & Aigner, 2016). To deal with fear, anxiety, and depression, various tranquilizers, and antidepressants may be employed. On the whole, it is also possible to provide the patient with palliative care (Stephens & Aigner, 2016). The latter may include several different components, such as cultural or spiritual care, communication with the patient, the services of a psychologist, and so on.
On the whole, it should be stressed that cancer is one of the most dangerous diseases that may affect the human and that it often causes mortality among the patients. There exist a wide array of types of cancer, and all are potentially lethal to the patient. It is difficult to detect cancer, and diagnosis should be made via different medical tests. Depending on the stage and type of cancer, various treatments may be utilized. These treatments may have a multitude of side effects. Also, patients often suffer from various complications or comorbid conditions. It is pivotal not only to treat cancer directly but also to provide care for the patient to help them manage the various physical and psychological complications of cancer.
Kerr, D. J. (Ed.). (2016). Oxford textbook of oncology (3rd ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Keyhanmehr, A. S., Kolouri, S., Heydarirad, G., Mofid, B., & Mosavat, S. H. (2018). Aromatherapy for the management of cancer complications: A narrative review. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 31, 175-180. Web.
Stephens, F. O., & Aigner, K. R. (2016). Basics of oncology (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Springer.
Stosor, V., & Zembower, T. R. (Eds.). (2014). Infectious complications in cancer patients. Cham, Switzerland: Springer.