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Cancer is a dangerous, complex, malignant tumor distinguished by unregulated, rapid and aggressive mitosis and growth of undifferentiated malfunctioning cells containing mutated genes (that form tumors). It is capable of invading surrounding tissues and metastasizing to various body organs and regions (thereby producing different cancer diseases inherent to body region such as lung cancer) using blood streams or lymphatic and circulatory systems throughout the body (due to lack of chemical adhesion molecules to anchor them to their growth site) to form new tumors to interfere with normal body functions, destroy bodily organs, causing blockages to blood vessels and subsequently collapsing the immune system if left untreated. It is irregularly shaped in comparison to normal surrounding cells, are not encapsulated and unorganized making it difficult to remove them.
Malignant tumors are commonly classified under either epithelial origin such as renal cell carcinoma or sarcoma which originates from supporting tissue such as osteosarcoma.
Cancer etiology involves mutation in genes that control cell division process such as oncogenes (sends molecular signals to cells for proliferate) which results in anaplasia (lack of cell specialisation).
Age: Individuals aged 55 years and above are more susceptible in being diagnosed with cancer
Environment: Acquiring specific chronic infections/bacteria such as Hepatitis B and hepatitis C that heightens susceptibility for liver cancer, Exposure to either ultraviolet radiation from the sun or ionizing radiation from medical imaging devices like x-rays, medication which are immunosuppressive that reduce both nonspecific and specific immune functions raising cancer development risk, carcinogen exposure or consumption that cause mutations in genetic activity like benzene and mercury
Hereditary: Individuals inheriting oncogenes which are cancer proliferation genes or having at risk genes which requires environmental stimulation to alter modify it into cancer such as basal cell carcinoma.
Some symptoms of cancer include having fever, unexplained weight loss, feeling fatigued or hyperpigmentation, persistent cough or any changes noticed in bowel or bladder functioning.
The diagnosis of cancer begins firstly with checking individual’s personal and family medical history of patient and receiving their presenting complaint to check for any signs or symptoms resembling cancer. Followed by physical examination of skin or other body structure for tumor location using palpation and auscultation to examine for any abnormal bruits around body areas like lungs or stomach. Then, further diagnostic tests should be ordered such as
Diagnostic imaging: X-rays – to check for potentially malignant tumors from still picture taken from inside the body, computed tomography (CT scan) – for 3D cross-sectional image of internal body organs that displays any tumors with dye injected into patient to increase contrast in image, ultrasonography – Using high frequency sound waves to reflect off bodily tissues for producing sonograms, Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to produce detailed cross sections of body by compelling tissues to emit radio waves
Biopsy: surgically removed sample of patient’s tissue is examined microscopically to check if it’s benign or malignant.
Cancers can be staged using its size or extension of spread using TNM staging system for instance (T-tumor size and any outgrowth to surrounding tissues, N-node in lymph system cancer has spread to, M-metastasis of cancer). It could also be graded to make prognosis of disease on scale of 1 to 4 (1 – tumor cells resemble surrounding tissues, 2 – slightly abnormal appearance of tumor cells, 3 – moderately abnormal tumor cells, 4 – highly abnormal tumor cells).
Treatment for cancer is vital and is based on cancer type, its stage and location with secondary factors such as patient’s general health and age considered to adjust treatment such as lower chemotherapy doses for elderly with weakened health. Common cancer treatments are:
Cancer research (CR) is crucial as it has the highest mortality rate globally and is perplexing with more than 100 diseases under its category that slows finding cure for it. It requires collecting samples, examining and analyzing information using lab research and conducting clinical trials with cancer patients to find how different cancers begin, expand and metastasize, testing novel less invasive/safer treatments (E.g. therapies, vaccines) to evaluate and monitor its efficiency to prevent cancer recurrence (by detecting any dormant cancer cells) and side effects and finding out what and how screening tests can detect cancer earlier respectively. Especially with genomics technological advances and using computational approaches, the tumor microenvironment features could be further analyzed to understand its sensitivity or resistance to treatments and better understand its etiology, development and spread and offer drug recommendations to match patients’ genomic data.
Moreover, it’s an expansive research area due to huge number of cancer variants with having to find out causes, susceptibility of patients and reasons based on cancer type. Especially with cancer’s ‘evolving’, aggressive, resilient nature, it is incumbent to provide more swift and accessible treatment innovations and rapidly certify them for clinical safety. Also hunting for possible new cancer genes such as BRCA genes and whether small genetic variants increases cancer risk to reduce the number of fatalities worldwide and ensure affordability of treatments helps to cater to impoverished regions.
In addition, CR helps to supplement any possible advances in treatment for cancer and expedites process by collating years of slow, methodical, difficult and experimental research using cancer theories by prior scientists and side effects of particular cancer drugs on treatment.
From CR, cancer patients have been cured or their conditions managed palliatively by reducing the pain/fatigue they experience or their cancer conditions managed to prevent further damage to body and thereby improve the quality of patient’s life and cancer survivability. It uses several research methods such as translational research (testing cancer patients in hospitals by using their tissue sample for lab experiments to formulate treatments), clinical trials (assessing prototype cancer treatments by scrutinizing link between cancer and patients behavioral factors (obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption) or substances) and Population-based research (how specific populations of cancer patients in certain regions around world are cancer diagnosed based on socioeconomic data and ethnicity and environmental conditions and access their to cancer care).
CR helps government to implement policies to reduce healthcare impact and prevent spread of cancers by informing public on potential cancer risks and cancer causing agents/infections based on CR (Eg. banning smoking).
CR could help introduce more affordable and accessible treatment and detection using medical equipment especially for developing countries thereby reducing any economic costs associated with the disease for the affected country(s).
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