Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of your body’s cells. This can create tumours that can destroy normal body tissue. Sometimes the growth can be invisible, like with leukaemia. Cancer can occur on and in any part of the body, but it occurs more frequently in some parts of the body. Cancers can be caused by genetic as well as environmental factors.
Early diagnosis and access to treatment is important to cure or reduce disability and harm of the disease.
Signs and symptoms caused by cancer will vary depending on what part of the body is affected.
Some general signs and symptoms include:
- A lump that can be felt under the skin (e.g. in the breast).
- Sudden and unintended loss or gain of body weight.
- Yellowing, darkening or redness of the skin, or sores on the skin that don't heal by themselves.
- Blood in your urine, an urge to urinate frequently or pain when peeing.
- Blood in your stools.
- A persistent cough or trouble breathing.
- Difficulty swallowing.
- Continuous stomach aches or other discomfort after eating.
- Continuous inexplicable joint pains.
- Continuous fevers or night sweats.
- Bleeding or bruising without clear causes such as an accident.
Cancer is caused by an abnormal change in the genetic code (DNA) of a cell. When the DNA of the cell is damaged, this can change the normal growth and function of the cell, leading to cancer.
Factors known to increase your risk of cancer include:
- Cancer can be diagnosed at any age, but most people are diagnosed with it when they are over 65 years of age.
- Certain habits such as smoking, excessive drinking, too much exposure to the sun, being overweight, and having unsafe sex can contribute to cancer.
- If cancer is common in your family.
- Some chronic health conditions, such as ulcers of the colon and the rectum, can increase your risk of developing certain cancers.
- Smoking tobacco, and even inhaling second-hand smoke, increase your risk of lung cancer and other forms of cancer.
- Harmful chemicals, such as benzene and asbestos, in your home or workplace can increase your risk of cancer.
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any persistent signs or symptoms that concern you.
If you don't have any signs or symptoms, but are worried about your risk of cancer, discuss your concerns with your doctor. Ask about which cancer screening tests and procedures are appropriate for you.
In general, living a healthy lifestyle and remaining physically active is the best plan:
- Do not use or quit using tobacco.
- Eat a healthy diet. A balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruits and lean meat can help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce your cancer risk.
- Being physically active can help you maintain a healthy weight, improve your health and reduce the risk of cancers.
- Vaccination can help you reduce your risk for specific cancers, such as liver cancer and cervical cancers.
There's no certain way to prevent cancer, but there are thing s you can do to reduce your risks of developing the disease:
- Stop smoking. If you don't smoke, don't start.
- Avoid excessive sun exposure. Limit your exposure to the sun by staying in the shade, wearing protective clothing or applying sunscreen.
- Eat a healthy diet containing lots of fruits and vegetables.
- Exercise most days of the week. Regular exercise is linked to a lower risk of cancer.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese may increase your risk of cancer. Work to achieve and maintain a healthy weight through a combination of a healthy diet and regular exercise.
- If you choose to drink alcohol, drink in moderation (one glass of an alcoholic beverage a day).
- Talk to your doctor about what types of cancer screening is best for you based on your risk factors.
- Ask your doctor about immunizations. Certain viruses increase your risk of cancer. Immunizations will help prevent infections, including hepatitis B (increases the risk of liver cancer) and human papillomavirus (HPV), which increases the risk of cervical cancer in women.
There are several approaches to cancer treatment which include:
- Chemotherapy aims to kill cancer cells with medications.
- Hormone therapy involves taking medications that change how certain hormones work in your body. In combination with chemotherapy, your healthcare provider can use this to shrink hormone-sensitive cancers before surgery.
- Radiation therapy uses high-dose radiation to kill cancer cells.
- Surgery is often a part of a treatment plan when a person has a cancerous tumour. Also, a surgeon may remove lymph nodes to reduce or prevent the disease from spreading.
- Immunotherapy uses medications and other treatments to boost the immune system and encourage it to fight cancer cells. Treatment is available where recommended, but payment is out of pocket since the National Health Insurance Scheme does not cover immunotherapy at this time.
- Personalized medicine involves using genetic testing to determine the best treatments for a person’s particular form of cancer.
- Stem cell transplant can be especially beneficial for people with blood-related cancers, such as leukaemia. It involves removing cells, such as red or white blood cells, that chemotherapy or radiation has destroyed. Lab technicians then strengthen the cells and put them back into the body. Stem cell transplant is an expensive procedure and is not generally accessible in Nigeria.
It is tough to be diagnosed with cancer. But various treatments show promise in more and more patients. Having a strong support from family, friends and co-workers is essential and can make a huge difference in the life of patients after diagnosis.