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World cancer awareness day: Why is cancer such a feared disease

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    Cancer is one of most feared diseases and the reason behind it is the belief that it has no cure. Is it really true that there is no cure for cancer? Well, there is no one line answer to it as it depends on a variety of factors. First of all, cancer is not a single disease, it is a group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body.

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    Early detection of cancer is the key to effectively treat it. But that itself is a challenge as many forms of cancer may not show any symptoms during the initial stages. The vast majority of cancer cases are due to environmental risk factors. Many of these environmental factors are controllable lifestyle choices. Thus, cancer is generally preventable. Between 70% and 90% of common cancers are due to environmental factors and therefore potentially preventable.

    Any type of cancer has four stages. If diagnosed in early first or second stage, it could be treated and cured as early detection can save almost 60 to 70 percent of cancer patients. To detect it, oneself must know the signs and symptoms, so that one can comprehend and consult a doctor.

    Cancer management:

    Many treatment options for cancer exist. The primary ones include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormonal therapy, targeted therapy and palliative care. Which treatments are used depends on the type, location and grade of the cancer as well as the patient's health and preferences. The treatment intent may or may not be curative.

    Chemotherapy:

    Chemotherapy is the treatment of cancer with one or more cytotoxic anti-neoplastic drugs (chemotherapeutic agents) as part of a standardized regimen. The term encompasses a variety of drugs, which are divided into broad categories such as alkylating agents and antimetabolites. Traditional chemotherapeutic agents act by killing cells that divide rapidly, a critical property of most cancer cells.

    Radiation:

    Radiation therapy involves the use of ionizing radiation in an attempt to either cure or improve symptoms. It works by damaging the DNA of cancerous tissue, killing it. To spare normal tissues (such as skin or organs, which radiation must pass through to treat the tumor), shaped radiation beams are aimed from multiple exposure angles to intersect at the tumor, providing a much larger dose there than in the surrounding, healthy tissue. As with chemotherapy, cancers vary in their response to radiation therapy. Radiation therapy is used in about half of cases. The radiation can be either from internal sources (brachytherapy) or external sources. The radiation is most commonly low energy x-rays for treating skin cancers, while higher energy x-rays are used for cancers within the body. Radiation is typically used in addition to surgery and or chemotherapy. For certain types of cancer, such as early head and neck cancer, it may be used alone. For painful bone metastasis, it has been found to be effective in about 70% of patients.

    Surgery:

    Surgery is the primary method of treatment for most isolated, solid cancers and may play a role in palliation and prolongation of survival. It is typically an important part of definitive diagnosis and staging of tumors, as biopsies are usually required. In localized cancer, surgery typically attempts to remove the entire mass along with, in certain cases, the lymph nodes in the area. For some types of cancer this is sufficient to eliminate the cancer.

    Palliative care:

    Palliative care refers to treatment that attempts to help the patient feel better and may be combined with an attempt to treat the cancer. Palliative care includes action to reduce physical, emotional, spiritual and psycho-social distress. Unlike treatment that is aimed at directly killing cancer cells, the primary goal of palliative care is to improve quality of life.

    Immunotherapy:

    A variety of therapies using immunotherapy, stimulating or helping the immune system to fight cancer, have come into use since 1997. Approaches include antibodies, checkpoint therapy and adoptive cell transfer.

    A variety of therapies using immunotherapy, stimulating or helping the immune system to fight cancer, have come into use since 1997. Approaches include antibodies, checkpoint therapy and adoptive cell transfer.

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