Unfortunately, humans and cancer are inseparable bedfellows due to cancer cells being present in the human body since birth. Whether or not those cancer cells pose a danger depends entirely on when they begin to mutate and how our bodies cope with the resulting changes.
Cancer is caused by irregularities at the cellular level, specifically transformations in our genes and genetic material. Cancer cells can develop at any time, but if the cellular changes are minimal the body’s white blood cells will be able to detect and eliminate them. When this happens, the person will not develop cancer. However, other people may have many cellular irregularities occur at once, allowing the cancer cells to grow strong enough to fight off or evade the white blood cells. These cancer cells then develop and multiply until they reach a tumorous size or form into what we know as cancer.
There are now a number of highly effective treatments for cancer, with most courses relying on a combination of 3 main types: surgery, radiotherapy, and medication now we have chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and recently home-based immunotherapy. The decision on which methods are used depends entirely on the type and stage of the cancer involved.
Surgery alongside radiotherapy is a localized form of treatment used to eradicate cancer in its early stages. Surgery offers the greatest chance of completely curing the cancer because in the early stages the cancer will not yet have spread to other areas. This means that surgically removing the affected tissue offers an effective cure for the condition. However, detecting cancer at this early stage usually occurs during annual health check-ups, which many people neglect and fail to realize the importance of; many don’t find out about the cancer until it has already reached an advanced stage.
Late-stage cancers (stage 4) tend to have already spread to nearby areas or organs. As a result, treatment must come in the form of chemotherapy that involves a prolonged scatter-gun attack against those cancer cells in order to eradicate them completely from the body. This form of treatment is necessary because we cannot know where the cells may be hiding. Nevertheless, this approach means that completely healthy and beneficial cells are also destroyed, leading to a number of side effects including hair loss, mouth ulcers and exhaustion, all of which make chemotherapy a chilling proposition for potential recipients.
Currently, more and more people are turning to targeted therapy as a form of treatment for cancer, as it is highly effective when compared to chemotherapy. While chemotherapy offers around a 30% success rate, targeted therapy is successful in up to 80% of cases. Unlike the scatter-gun chemotherapy approach, targeted therapy is considered more sniper-like, accurately taking out its target without any collateral damage to otherwise healthy cells. Unfortunately, not everyone suffering with cancer will be well suited to receive targeted therapy treatment.
Targeted therapy, to be at its most effective, must be used in conjunction with a highly accurate diagnosis by expert medical staff. Each patient’s symptoms are unique, so every course of treatment must be tailored to suit the individual. This approach is referred to as “Precision Medicine” due to the highly accurate nature of the treatment which results in greater efficacy and an improved chance of success.
Isn’t it odd that despite constant developments in medicine, resulting in a range of new treatments that are highly effective in curing the disease, cancer is actually affecting more people than ever before? Shouldn’t its occurrence rate actually be falling as we learn more about it? The answer to these questions lies in the varied and wide-ranging causes of this disease, most of which can be found in the way we lead our daily lives. No matter how effective our treatments become, the fact is that if we do not take good care of our health and make positive lifestyle changes, the risk of developing cancer will always be there.
It is crucial that we give up or reduce smoking because cigarettes are one of the biggest causes of a multitude of cancers. We should also be reducing our alcohol intake for the same reason. Additionally, ensuring we do not become overweight and decreasing our consumption of red meats, such as sausages and ham, can also help to reduce our cancer risk.
Increasing the regularity with which we exercise, eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, getting sufficient rest, keeping a positive frame of mind, and reducing exposure to stress are all effective methods by which we can help protect ourselves from the onset of cancer.
As doctors, we feel a huge sense of achievement the more people we can help cure from cancer. This is eminently possible as long as the cancer is detected in a timely manner. We therefore recommend that everyone attend their annual health check-up, as this can be vital in keeping you safe from cancer. Males and females over the age of 50 should undergo colonoscopy screening aimed at detecting colon cancer, and women over 40 are strongly advised to undergo breast cancer and cervical cancer screening, which can help identify these cancers in their early stages, significantly increasing the chances of successful treatment. It is also important to make lifestyle changes, because no matter how effective cancer treatments are in these modern times, preventing the onset of the disease is always the preferred option.
The Second Class Honors M.D., Faculty of Medicine, Chulalongkorn University, 1993. , 2002