Cancer, Causes and Prevention
What is cancer ?
Cancer is an umbrella term given to a series of diseases in which some of the body’s cells begin to multiply, growing and spreading into surrounding tissues. Typically, cells do not divide unless needed by the body to perform a certain function. When cancer occurs, however, cells continue to divide without serving a purpose or benefit to the body, and abnormal, old, or damaged cells may persist in the body rather than being replaced with new, healthy cells as would happen in a healthy system. The growth of cancerous cells usually results in solid masses of tissues called tumors, which may be benign or malignant.
Benign Tumors: are not cancers and do not spread to other parts of the body. These tumors can usually be removed and are not moles or fibers that are more common in the female reproductive system.
Malignant Tumors: are cancerous and can spread throughout the body and in the bloodstream. These cells grow uncontrollably, spread, and invade other tissues. It is therefore important to detect malignant tumors early on while they are still in the initial phases.
An Overview of Reproductive Cancers
Cancers of the reproductive system affect both men and women.
Cancers affecting the reproductive system are more common in women than men.
What Causes Cancer?
There is no single major cause of cancer but several factors, such as the following, can contribute to its likelihood to occur.
Unhealthy Eating Habits: Evidence suggests that nutrients found in some foods can block the progression of cancer, including fatty acids that are found in linseed oil and fish, which inhibit the growth of tumors. Repeated studies have shown that there is a strong association between consuming a large amount of plant foods and the reduction of cancer.
Genetic Factors: Some families may find themselves predisposed to certain cancers based on their family’s health history. This is indicative of hereditary genes being carried and passed down by members of these families that may contribute to the occurrence of cancer.
The Extended Use of Hormones: Many questions have been raised in regards to the relationship between hormone pills and an increase in the risk of a number of cancers, especially breast cancer in women.
Smoking and Excessive Alcohol Consumption: Smoking is a key factor for cancer of the lips, pharynx, esophagus, larynx and lungs. In all countries where reliable statistics are available, there has been a marked increase in deaths from lung cancer in recent decades.
Exposure to Radiation and Chemicals: People living near transformers and power cables are more likely than others to develop cancer.
Air, Water, and Food Pollution/Contamination: ___
Lack of Exercise or Physical Activity: May lead to excessive obesity. Studies have shown a relationship between certain cancers (such as breast, uterine, and prostate cancer) and obesity.
There is no single major cause of cancer but several factors, such as the following, can contribute to its likelihood to occur.
Ways to Prevent Cancer
There is no sure way to prevent the occurrence of cancers, but there are a number of healthy lifestyle choices that help to reduce the likelihood of general health problems and cancer in particular.
Reduce eating fatty foods to avoid obesity
Increase the proportion of fiber in food by eating a variety of vegetables, fruits and whole grains
Reduce alcohol consumption
Reduce the intake of smoked or salted preserved foods
Refrain from eating non-natural or genetically modified foods
Maintain personal hygiene to avoid infection
Undergo periodic clinical and laboratory examinations
Avoid exposure to radiation
Keep away from environmental pollutants and contaminants
Breast cancer develops when malignant tumors form from breast cells that grow out of control. Because these tumors are malignant, they can spread to other organs of the body. Breast cancer is most prevalent among women and is the most common form of female cancer in the Middle East, according to Komen (https://ww5.komen.org/WhatWeDo/AroundtheWorld/MiddleEast/MiddleEast.html).
Globally, more than 1.2 million women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. While statistically breast cancer is more likely to occur in women, it is important to note that it also affects men. Unfortunately, men oftentimes delay consulting a medical professional due to lack of awareness that they are susceptible to breast cancer.
Symptoms and Signs of Breast Cancer
Swelling of the breast or in the area between the breast and armpit
Change in breast size and shape
Change in color or feel of the breast
Skin wrinkling, redness or inflammation around the breasts
Change in shape of the nipple
Pain, itching or peeling of the nipple
It is important to not neglect these symptoms and to consult a medical professional as soon as possible if experiencing any of the above.
Unusual secretions from the nipple (fluid or blood)
Methods of Early Detection
The method of diagnosing breast cancer is the same for men and women, unlike past delays in detecting breast cancer in men. Despite the similarities, differences in breast size must be take into account as well as the extent of men’s awareness of the disease and how this impacts early detection and effective treatment.
Knowing the signs and symptoms of breast cancer can help save a patient's life. Early detection makes the treatment options more manageable and the potential for recovery is much greater.
Method 1: Self-examination of the breast
Method 2: Clinical examination of the breast performed by a healthcare professional
Method 3: Mammography (using low-energy X-rays to detect breast cancer)
Method 4: Ultrasound imaging
Method 5: Taking a sample of any detected tumor for examination
Self Breast Examination
Women may feel changes in their breasts for several reasons, such as their menstrual cycle, pregnancy, breastfeeding, birth control pills, hormone therapy, aging or menopause. While more than 90% of breast tumors are benign, a doctor must be consulted to determine the type of tumor.
[While many medical professionals do not view self breast examinations as an effective way to detect breast cancer, regular self-examinations allow women to understand the normal look and feel of their breasts so that if a change occurs they are more likely to notice it and consult a medical professional. A significant number of women have noticed the first sign of their breast cancer as a breast lump they discovered through self-examination.]
Girls and women should perform self-examinations as follows:
Menstruating women aged 20 and older: sevens days after the end of their period
In addition to monthly self-examinations, women aged 20 to 39 should have a breast examination by a trained professional every three years while women aged 40 and above should have an annual breast examination by a trained professional as well as an annual mammogram.
Women at the age of menopause and older: the first day of every month
Steps of a Self Breast Examination
1. Stand undressed from the waist up in front of a full-length mirror with your arms relaxed at your sides. If you cannot stand comfortably, you can do this part sitting down.
Get to know how your breasts look. Even a small visual change may be a significant early sign of a problem. Notify your health care provider immediately if you notice any changes.
2. Compare your breasts while turning from side to side. Look for any changes in breast size, shape, skin texture or color including redness, dimpling, puckering or retraction (pulling back of your skin).
3. Notice any nipple changes, such as scaliness, a pulling to one side
, or a change in direction.
4. Place your hands on your waist and press inward, then turn from side to side to note any changes. If you cannot place your hands on your waist, try clasping your hands together in front of you, to tighten the chest muscles.
5. Tightening the chest muscles beneath the breasts in other ways can also help you notice changes. Try different positions, such as putting your hands above your head and turning side to side as you look.
6. Place your hands at your waist and bow toward the mirror, letting your breasts fall forward. Note any changes in breast shape.
7. Nipple discharge can be
a sign of a problem. Look
for any discharge in your bra or clothing, but do not squeeze the nipple or try to expel any secretions. Notify your health care provider if you notice any discharge.
8. Feel above and below your collarbone for pea- and bean-sized lumps or thickening.
Applying skin cream or lotion can make this easier.
9. Check for lumps or thickening under your arm while relaxing your arm at your side. Reach across with your other hand to feel the area. Check deeply up and down the inside of
the armpit, and up and forward toward your chest. Note any changes from previous self-exams.
For the next steps, lie down. The bed is okay.
10. Place a pillow or folded towel under your left shoulder. This helps your breast tissue spread evenly across your chest wall. Bend your left arm behind your head and reach across with your right hand to your left breast. A little skin cream or lotion on your fingers will make them more sensitive.
11. Begin the exam at the armpit. Move your three middle fingers together using light, medium and deep pressures.
12. Your hand should move in straight rows to cover all the breast tissue from the line
where your blouse seam would fall (midaxillary line) to the bra line, the breastbone (sternum) and collarbone (clavicle). Then, repeat on the other side.
Mammograms may be used for early detection of breast cancer and small tumors that would otherwise not be detectable and are free in Jordanian hospitals.It is important to note that pregnant women should not have mammograms as the radiation may affect the fetus.
What are the Treatments for Breast Cancer?
Treatment of breast cancer depends on:
The stage of cancer (Stage I, Stage II, Stage III, Stage IV)
The doctor chooses the type of treatment according to the stage of the cancer. Most breast cancer patients receive more than one type of treatment and treatment methods either localized or comprehensive.
Surgery is typically followed by radiation therapy to eliminate cancer cells that have remained in the treated area. In most cases, the surgeon removes the lymph nodes under the armpit to help determine the stage of the disease.
Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells and prevent them from growing. Radiation therapy can take two forms. The first and most common form is external radiation, in which a machine delivers radiation from outside the body. The second form, internal radiation, is when a radiation-delivery device is placed near the cancer site. The device is filled with a radioactive source for short periods of time throughout treatment. Some patients may receive both forms of radiation therapy.
Chemotherapy, often referred to as “chemo”, is the use of medicines to kill cancer cells. In most cases, breast cancer is treated with a combination of medicines given orally, intravenously or intramuscularly. Chemotherapy is a comprehensive treatment as the medicine is spread to all parts of the body through the bloodstream, making it useful in preventing the spread of the cancer.
The wants and needs of the patient
What are the Risk Factors for Ovarian Cancer?
Family History: first degree relatives (mother, sister and/or daughter) has had ovarian cancer
Women have had a type of cancer in the past
Women who did not have children - there is an increased risk of ovarian cancer with the number of ovulation cycles a woman goes through and one does not ovulate while pregnant
Use of Hormone Replacement Therapy
What are Ovarian Cancer Symptoms?
The symptoms of ovarian cancer may not be obvious at first, but the major symptoms include:
Pressure or pain in the abdomen, back, legs and pelvis
Nausea, indigestion, gas, constipation or diarrhea
Feeling tired all the time
Methods of Early Detection of Ovarian Cancer
Periodic laboratory tests
Regular visits to the doctor
Treatment of Ovarian Cancer
Treatments include surgical, chemical and radiation therapy. Surgical treatment can include the removal of the ovaries, the uterus, the fallopian tubes, adjacent lymph nodes, and part of the lipid membrane in the pelvis surrounding the ovaries.
Cervical and Uterine Cancer
What are cervical and uterine cancers?
The uterus is a pear-shape reproductive organ consisting of two parts: the upper part is called the body of the uterus and the lower part is called the cervix. The cervix opens to the vaginal canal. These are the most common forms of reproductive cancer in women after breast cancer and the main cause is human papillomavirus (HPV).
Prevention and Early Detection Methods of Uterine and Cervical Cancer
A vaccine is available that helps to protect women from either two, four, or nine types of HPV. All vaccines protect against at least the two types of HPV that cause the greatest risk of cervical cancer.
Conduct Pap smears (Papanicolaou tests) . Testing should begin at the age of 21 and is recommended every three years for women ages 21 to 65.
Observe the woman's body and consult a doctor immediately following any of these symptoms:
Bleeding or abnormal vaginal discharge after intercourse
Pain during or after intercourse
Difficulty or pain when urinating
Pain in the pelvic area
Non-menstrual bleeding, especially after reaching the age of menopause
What are the Treatment Options for Uterine and Cervical Cancer?
Both radiological and surgical treatments are available and some women may undergo both. In the early stages of the onset of the disease, radiation therapy may be sufficient to kill the cancer cells but in later stages, the full removal of the uterus may be required.
What is prostate cancer?
The prostate is a walnut-sized gland in men that produces seminal fluid and stores semen. It is located under the bladder in front of the rectum and surrounds the upper part of the urethra which is the tube that empties the urine from the bladder.
Approximately 1 in 7 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime. Research shows that Jordanian men are more than 5 times more likely to die from prostate cancer than men in the United States. According to Abdul Naser M. Al Shunaigat, the president of the Jordanian Association of Urological Surgeons, the lack of awareness in the region surrounding prostate cancer means that “men in this region are diagnosed in the late stage of the disease”, noting that if caught early, there is a high potential for full recovery.
What are the Causes of Prostate Cancer?
Studies have shown that there is a range of risk factors that may play a role in the incidence of prostate cancer, including:
Age: Risk increases as age increases
Race, Genetics, and Family History: Risk is higher if a close family member has had prostate cancer or if your family carries genes that put you had high risk for breast cancer. It has also been shown for reasons not yet known, that black men are more likely to develop prostate cancer.
Obesity: An unhealthy diet and the onset of obesity may increase the risk of prostate cancer. Studies have shown that fat increases the production of the hormone testosterone, which stimulates the growth of cancer cells in the prostate.
High Levels of Testosterone: Men with high levels of testosterone or those who use testosterone as a treatment may suffer an enlarged prostate, making it more likely to develop prostate cancer
What are the Symptoms of Prostate Cancer?
Trouble urinating, decreased force in urine stream, or urinating in small amounts
The disease may spread to the surrounding organs: the seminal vesicles, bladder and urethra and then begin to spread through the blood of the bone, especially the bone defect, pelvis, vertebrae, skull, ribs, femur and spine.
Pain in the lower abdomen and lower back. Pain can extend to the legs and may cause hemorrhaging in advanced cases
What is the Treatment for Prostate Cancer?
There is more than one way to treat prostate cancer and some patients may undergo a combination of treatments, such as surgery followed by radiation or hormone therapy.
The best course of treatment depends on several factors including: how fast the cancer is growing, how wide it had spread, and the side effects of the treatment on the patient.
Some of the most common forms of treatment include:
Radiation Therapy: external radiation or internal radiation via the implantation of a device containing radioactive material
Hormone Therapy: the use of drugs to stop the body from producing sex hormones, including testosterone. This may also involve surgery to remove the testes which produce this hormone.
Prostate Surgery: removal of the prostate gland. The surgeon removes the lymph nodes completely while maintaining the muscles and nerves that control urination and sexual function.
Chemotherapy: chemicals are used to kill rapidly growing cells.
Cryotherapy: using freezing or near freezing temperatures to kill the cancer cells.