What is Cancer ? What is Oncology ?
Oncology is the study of cancer. Doctors specialized in this field, and who treat cancer, are called oncologists. Cancer is a term for the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body. Cancer forms when the body’s normal mechanism stops working. Old cells do not die and cells keep growing, forming new, abnormal cells. This uncontrolled growth may form a mass of tissue, called a tumor. Some cancers, such as blood cancer (leukaemia), do not form tumors. Cancer can affect any part of the body. The most common cancer in men and women are prostate and breast cancer, respectively.
What type of cancer is it?
The decisions regarding brain tumor surgeries are made by your cancer care team, before they give you your options. Surgeons, pathologists, medical and radiation oncologists discuss each specific tumor and plan a treatment option.
Your doctors may prescribe surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or a combination of these three, as a part of your specific treatment plan. Surgery involves removal of the tumor and patients are observed for 2 – 3 days following surgery. Some tumors such as astrocytoma, GBM, ependymoma, medulloblastoma are infiltrative tumors and therefore, even after complete removal using surgery, some traces of the tumor may remain.
Fractionated radiation therapy, is another form of treatment, which may be used to deal with the remaining traces of the tumor.
Radiosurgery, is used for benign and metastatic tumors. Here, a very high dose of radiation (only once) is delivered to the tumor, while keeping the surrounding normal tissues safe. Usually radiosurgery is prescribed only for small tumor masses (less than 3cm, in diameter), easily identified by MRI or CT scans, and separate from the brain. For patients with a tumor that can be treated with radiosurgery, the procedure gives very little discomfort and only a short time to recover fully.
There are more than 100 types of cancer. The different types of cancer are named after organs or tissues where the cancers start. For example, breast cancer starts in cells of the breast, and bone cancer develops in the bone cells.
There are five main categories of cancer:
- Carcinomas – cancer that begins in the skin or tissues of organs. They are the most common type of cancer. Carcinomas are formed by epithelial cells, that cover the inside and outside surfaces of the body.
- Sarcomas – cancer that develops in the bone, cartilage, fat, muscle, lymph vessels, and fibrous tissue (such as tendons and ligaments). Osteosarcoma is the most common form of bone cancer.
- Leukemia – cancer that begins in the blood and bone marrow. These cancers do not form solid tumors. But they grow in large numbers and make it difficult for normal blood cells (red blood cells/ RBCs) to grow. Less RBCs mean that the body finds it difficult to get oxygen to tissues, fight infections or control bleeding.
- Lymphomas – cancer that starts in the immune system. This cancer develops in the lymphocytes (T cells or B cells) of the body. These cells help the body to fight infections and other diseases, and they are part of the immune system. Large number of abnormal lymphocytes accumulate in lymph nodes and vessels and other parts of the body, leading to lymphoma.
- Central nervous system – cancer that forms in the brain and spinal cord. The different types of brain and spinal cord tumors are named on the basis of which cell type has the cancer within the central nervous system.
In these categories, there are several types of cancers, each with different symptoms, and treatment options. You can browse our list as below:
How does your doctor diagnose it?
Scans, blood tests or biopsies, varying from person to person. In most cases, however, biopsies are the only way to verify the presence of cancer, as the doctors can visualize cancerous and normal cells. In biopsy, a piece of the abnormal region is taken out and sent to a lab, in what may be a minor surgical process. The pathologist, an expert at identifying abnormal cells and diseases, tries to understand if the cells are cancerous, and if so what type of cancer and how fast it may grow. Scans, such as CT, and MRI’s can tell you about the size of the cancer and shows if any tumors have spread to other tissues and organs. Blood tests can help your doctor identify your health, if your organs are all functioning properly, as well as give information about possible blood cancers.
All of these tests helps your doctor to make a sound diagnosis.
Do you need a second opinion?
Since cancer treatments are continuously improving, we think that it is important for you to be advised by the best doctor in the field, who has experience with your type of cancer. A second opinion is where you meet with more than one doctor to confirm your diagnosis and also, to understand your treatment options.
Second opinions are quite common and most people follow this practise, as it may help to feel more comfortable about your health and the future decisions you make.
Asking for a second opinion is common practice. It may help you feel more comfortable with the health care decisions you make. There are various ways in which a second opinion can give you information. It can:
- Confirm your diagnosis
- Provide more details about the type of cancer, and its current stage
- Give an accurate location for your cancer, and whether or not it has spread (metastasis)
- Tell you whether other parts of your body are being affected
- Put you in touch with experts in associated fields of oncology who can inform you of other details, such as medical, radiation, and surgical oncology
- Also give you other treatment options, in case the doctor disagrees with your prior diagnosis and treatment
How is cancer treated? What are the different treatment options available
Every individual is different from the other and therefore, the same cancer that forms in two individuals are different as well. Each cancer type has a subtype, depending on its precise location and staging, that requires a treatment plan specific for it. You can find more detailed information under the specific cancer that you are looking for.
Now, depending on the category of cancer, the specific type, its staging, metastasis (spread of cancer to other parts of your body), as well as your current health, the specific type of treatment you receive will differ. The main goal of any cancer treatment is to kill as many abnormal cells as possible, while leaving the surrounding healthy cells intact. The three main types of treatment are:
where the tumor is removed from the site of cancer. Surgery is usually the first line of treatment, if the cancer can be removed. Sometimes, depending on the site of cancer and access to it, only a part of the cancer can be removed. However, radiation or chemotherapy might be used to shrink the cancer before or after surgery.
where drugs and chemicals specific for your cancer are used to kill the cells. Doctors use this line of treatment to kill cancer cells, either as a part of a combination with surgery, or independently, depending on case to case. Chemo is either given orally (as tablets), or injected into your system through IV (or into a vein). The drugs travel through your bloodstream and reach cells that are cancerous, and therefore killing them.
where certain doses of X-Rays are used to target and kill cells in the specific area. External radiation, such as X-Ray, is delivered into the body from the outside. Internal/ implant radiation is where radioactive materials are placed inside the tumor, killing it from the inside out.
Your doctor may also suggest a combination of two or all three types of treatments, as mentioned above. There are also other types of treatment, including stem cell or bone marrow transplant, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, hormone therapy, etc., which are performed based on the status and type of your cancer.
Who are your cancer care team?
Your cancer care team consists of your doctor, other experts such as surgical and radiation oncologists, nurses, special consultants, physiotherapists, and other professionals involved in treating and caring for your health. The cancer care team will discuss all the treatment options with you. It’s important to understand and know about your options. The most important factors, when you choose a treatment plan are mainly, the type of cancer and the stage of the cancer. Other factors to consider include your overall health condition, the possible side effects of the treatment plan, the likelihood of curing your cancer, controlling it to extend life, or relieving your symptoms.
What are the risk factors for cancer?
A risk factor is anything which can lead to you getting a disease, including cancer. There are different risk factors for different cancers. For example, continuous exposure to strong sunlight can cause skin cancer. Certain risk factors can cause the cancer (such as smoking), while some other factors are common in people who have cancer (such as old age).
However, it is not necessary that exposure to these risk factors will give us cancer. Some people with multiple exposures may not develop cancer, while others with no known exposures may succumb to it. Environmental factors also play a big role in causing cancer, such as smoking or excessive abuse of alcohol. Certain environmental factors can be controlled by us, such as:
- Tobacco usage
- Lack of a proper diet
- Lack of physical activity
- Obesity/ Weight issues
- Consumption of alcohol
- Exposure to strong sunlight
- Other environmental exposures, such as lead, and asbestos
- Exposure to infections like hepatitis, HPV, and HIV.