Updated: Mar 19
What is Cancer
Unfortunately, most of us know someone who has battled cancer. Early detection of cancer is crucial for effective treatment. All though there are various "types" of cancer such as bone, skin, lung, and brain, how cancer starts is relatively the same regardless of where it occurs in the body. To understand how cancer develops you first have to understand an important process called the cell cycle.
The Cell Cycle and Cancer
The Cell Cycle consists of the stages of development for a cell. During the cell cycle, there are a series of "checkpoints" to check how the cell is growing and fixes of any abnormalities the cell may have. The body has these checkpoints to identify cells that have any damage and repairs the cell before it can replicate or reproduce. However, sometimes damaged cells can slip past these checkpoints and replicate or reproduce rapidly. Once this happens a growth can form. This growth can also be called a tumor. Tumors are either benign (not-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Each organ and body structure has specialized cells to perform the function of the structure or organ. So for example, when a damaged lung cell slips pass a checkpoint and it replicates so much that it creates a malignant tumor, that person then has lung cancer. Lifestyle choices have a huge impact on the risk of cancer. This is because bad habits such as smoking, drug use, and exposure to chemicals can damage the DNA inside our cells and cause cancer.
Stages of Cancer
Treatment for cancer is dependant on the stage of development. For example there five stages of cancer with Stage 0 being the easiest to cure and stage 4 being the hardest. If the cancer is found during Stage 0 and Stage 1 this will be early detection and will often involve surgery to remove the tumor before it can spread. However, in Stage 2 and Stage 3 the malignant tumor has grown deep into the tissue and may have spread to the lymph node but has not spread to other areas of the body. Stage 4 cancer is also called advanced stage or metastatic cancer. In this stage cancer has spread to other parts of the body and curing this stage is very difficult.
Treatment by Stage of Cancer
For earlier stages like Stage 0 and Stage 1, radiation along with surgery is the preferred method.
Radiation is a treatment used to target the tumor and destroy the cancer cells. However, in this treatment, healthy cells can be damaged by radiation as well. Radiation can involve using a machine that shoots high energy rays focused on the tumor.
Another method can be placing a radioactive substance inside the body near the tumor.
Radiation treatment can also be done by an IV filled with a radioactive drug. The purpose of Radiation treatment is to destroy the DNA inside the cancer cells preventing them from reproducing.
In Stage 2, Stage 3 and Stage 4, cancer may have spread to the lymph nodes and or other parts of the body. For these stages, the preferred treatment method can be chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy is a treatment that involves the administration of a drug that prevents cancer from dividing and replicating. However, with this treatment, it is difficult to target specific cells as the drug will damage all the cells that it comes into contact with.
Side effects of chemotherapy include changes in thinking and memory, hair loss, loss of appetite, Nervous system damages, headaches, muscle pain, and stomach pain. Radiation and Surgery may also be used in conjugation with chemotherapy.
Applying this knowledge to your job
While working as a Patient Care Technician, Medical Assistant, Phlebotomy Technician, Surgical Technician or EKG technician in a hospital setting odds are you will come across patients that have been diagnosed with cancer. Having knowledge about cancer will help in understanding where a patient may stand going through treatment. Listening to the patients and there loved ones and providing encouragement is important to help them through this physically and emotionally taxing time.