Understanding Cancer

Causes and Diagnosis of Cancer
©2006 Publications International, Ltd. While the precise causes of cancer remain a mystery, the link between smoking and cancer has been established.

Who is most likely to develop cancer? What are the causes of cancer? These questions are very difficult, if not impossible, to answer. There are, however, certain risk factors for cancer that increase the possibility that a person will develop the disease. Among these risk factors are age (as a rule, the older the person is, the higher his or her risk of getting cancer), family history (for example, if a mother or sister had breast cancer, the risk of developing breast cancer is increased), and environmental and other factors.

The rapid increase in cancer rates in the last hundred years has largely been blamed on the environment. Polluted air and water, food additives and colorings, and changes in diet from "natural" to "processed" foods all have been implicated as possible causes. Cigarette smoking has been shown conclusively to be a cause of lung and other related cancers.

Warning Signs

Often a patient is the first to suspect cancer. This is why it is important to learn some of the most common warning signs of cancer. Some of these signs may include:

  • A change in bowel or bladder habits
  • A sore that does not heal
  • Unusual bleeding or discharge
  • Thickening or lump in the breast or elsewhere
  • Indigestion or difficulty in swallowing
  • An obvious change in a wart or mole
  • A nagging cough or continued hoarseness

DiagnosisFollowing a physical examination, if the doctor suspects abnormal growth, he or she may order a series of tests, including special X-ray examinations (for example, computed tomography scans, in which successive X rays at slightly different levels are used to create a three-dimensional image of a structure), nuclear medicine scans (in which radioactive substances are used in the imaging process), ultrasound scanning (a technique that uses sound waves to create images of internal structures), magnetic resonance imaging (in which a strong magnetic field is used instead of X rays), cytologic tests (microscopic examination of cells), and various laboratory evaluations. The doctor may also order a biopsy (removal of a small tissue sample for microscopic examination) to determine the cell type of the suspected growth and whether it is benign or malignant.

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. An ultrasound can also be used to detect cancer.

A physician may also recommend a specialist with expertise in specific types of cancer treatment. This may be an oncologist (cancer specialist), a cancer surgeon, a radiation oncologist (radiologist who uses radiation to treat cancer), or a hematologist (specialist in blood diseases).

While each type of cancer will have its own specific treatment, on the next page we will look at some of the general treatment options.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

More to Explore