Cancer – Patient Education
Information and resources for patients, caregivers, family and physicians by Dr Vineet Govinda Gupta Oncology. Access the best cancer treatment in Delhi NCR by a board certified medical oncologist practicing in Delhi, formerly at AIIMS New Delhi for more than 12 years. More information here.
What is cancer?
In brief, cancer can be defined as a condition where the normal cells of the body become abnormal and start growing and multiplying uncontrollably and gain the ability to spread throughout the body.
In the normal state of the body, cells of the body need to divide to replace cells which are lost in day to day activities. For example, old cells in the intestine die and are lost in faeces. To replace these cells, new cells are created by the division of old cells. The division of these cells is tighly controlled by the body so that only as many cells are created as are needed for normal functioning of the body.
Sometimes, however, the body is not able to control the normal division of cells and the cells begin to divide uncontrollably, forming a mass or “tumour”. After some time, these cells also gain the ability to spread from the intestine to faraway sites (liver, lung, bones, brain etc) and these sites are called “metastases”. These kinds of abnormally dividing and spreading cells are called cancer.
What are the most common cancers seen in men and women?
The most common cancers vary by geographical location. The most common cancers in Delhi are:
What are the causes of cancer?
A number of causes of cancer are known. The most important ones include:
- Use of tobacco by smoking, chewing etc
- Supari or betel nut use
- Alcohol use
- Industrial toxins, heavy metals, some chemicals and dyes
- Hormonal changes in the body
- Exposure to harmful radiation
- Inherited risk (genetic risk inherited from parents)
- Some special infections
- Diet high in fat and processed meats, and poor in fruits and vegetables
- Obesity and lack of exercise
However, cancer can also occur without any apparent cause (discussed ahead). Also, only a minority of people who have one of the above risk factors will actually develop cancer. However, the risk of them developing cancer is higher than the risk in someone without these habits or exposures.
Why does cancer happen to some people who do not have any possible cause?
Unfortunately, in many patients there is no apparent cause of cancer. Even if they never smoke or drink alcohol and live a very healthy lifestyle, they may still get cancer. Cancer can even affect children. Research indicates that cells may get damaged and turn into cancer even without any known causative factors. Thus, it is common for people to develop cancer even if they have no risk factors whatsover.
Can cancer spread from one person to another?
In general, cancer cannot directly spread from one person to another. However, the cause of cancer can be spread.
For example, a person with lung cancer cannot spread lung cancer to his family members. However, if he smokes cigarettes in front of his family, they are exposed to cigarette smoke which increases their risk of lung cancer.
My relative had cancer, does this mean I have a risk of cancer also?
Several cancers have a heritable component, meaning that there is a higher risk of you getting cancer if your relative also had cancer. Some common examples include breast, colon, testicular, and ovarian cancer. The risk varies from person to person and also depends on the type of cancer and type of genetic mutation present in the family. Your oncologist can help you figure out if you are at risk of cancer and guide you to measures to prevent it.
What can I do to prevent cancer from happening to me?
Some common ways to prevent cancer are as follows:
- Avoiding tobacco, supari and alcohol
- Healthy diet and exercise
- Testing oneself for hepatitis or HIV infection, and taking treatment for the same
- Early detection of precancerous conditions – pap smear and mammography in women and prostate test in men
- Vaccination against cervical cancer (HPV vaccine)
- If you have a strong history of cancer in your family, you should meet an oncologist to discuss if you require testing for familial cancer
Are there ways to “test” for cancer in the body so that it is caught at an early stage?
Yes, there are. These tests are called “screening tests”. Screening implies testing a person who has no symptoms of cancer so that early disease (either precancer or early-stage cancer) can be caught at a stage when it is easily curable instead of waiting for symptoms to appear.
The typical example is pap smear for cervical cancer. In general, there is a time gap of several years (even decades) between early precancerous changes seen on a pap smear and development of cervical cancer. By performing a pap smear, we can detect these changes and treat the lesions before cancer can even develop.
Some common screening modalities include:
- Pap smear for cervical cancer
- Mammography for breast cancer
- Digital examination and PSA level for prostate cancer
- Low-dose CT scan for lung cancer
- EBV-DNA for nasopharyngeal cancer
- Colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, fecal DNA test, fecal blood test and virtual colonoscopy for colorectal cancer
However, it is important to note that not everyone should undergo screening and screening has not been proven to result in benefit in many settings. Which screenings should be done requires opinion from an expert oncologist.
Is cancer curable?
Cancer is a curable disease, if treated appropriately at a proper stage. It is estimated that two-thirds of all cancers are potentially curable in the current era. You can learn more about cancer cure rates here.
How is cancer treated?
Even those cancers which are incurable can often be controlled for long periods of time. At it’s most basic, treatment of cancer encompasses three main modalities:
- Surgery, to remove cancer from the body by operations
- Systemic therapy, to control and eliminate cancer in the body using chemotherapy, targeted therapy, hormones, immunotherapy etc
- Radiation therapy, which uses beams of high energy to “burn” and destroy cancer cells
Your oncologist can help you navigate the complexity of treating your cancer. You can send me a free query by using our E-consultation form.
I wish to learn more about cancer and its treatment!
You can access more information using various sections of this website. Some common topics of interest are linked below. For other topics you can use the menu above or the search box. If you cannot find your topic of interest, you can send me a free E-consultation using the form below.
- Information about lung cancer
- Information about breast cancer
- Information about lymphoma and myeloma (blood cancers)
- Information about chemotherapy
- Information about targeted therapy
Where can I get more information about scientific cancer treatment in Delhi?
Dr Vineet Govinda Gupta is a board certified medical oncologist trained at the apex medical institute in the country (AIIMS New Delhi) for more than 12 years. He has expertise in all kinds of cancers, their prevention and treatment. More details here.
Free E-consultation about cancer in Delhi
If you have additional questions not answered by the above section, use the form below to send me your queries and we will get back to you shortly. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.