Understanding Cancer

Brain Cancer, Lung Cancer, and Skin Cancer
©2006 Publications International, Ltd. MRIs have vastly improved the diagnosis of brain cancer.

Cancer describes a broad group of diseases in which certain body cells grow out of control. In the following pages we will cover many of the most common forms of the disease. On this page we will deal with brain, lung, and skin cancer.

Brain Cancer

Any tumor in the brain, whether cancerous or not, is very dangerous. Because the brain occupies an enclosed space within the skull, even a small tumor that weighs only a fifth of a pound can cause crowding sufficient to bring on death. Brain cancer is most often the result of metastasis from other cancer sites, particularly the breast, lung, and skin.

Symptoms of brain cancer are of two kinds.  pressure in the skull can cause seizures, headaches, nausea, forgetfulness, and personality changes. However, symptoms may also arise in the part of the body controlled by the area in the brain that is affected by the cancer. For instance, coordination, vision, or strength of limbs may be affected.

In the past, brain tumors did not respond well to treatment, largely because diagnosis could not be made until late in the development of the disease. Recently, however, diagnostic techniques have improved. The computed tomography (CT) scanner produces a three-dimensional image of the brain that can show the size and location of a tumor and can be used to monitor the progress of treatment. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is also used.

Surgery is the primary treatment for brain cancer. It is often not used, however, when cancer is present in multiple areas or when the tumor originated in another organ. Surgery in the brain is a delicate procedure; often, a tumor deep in the brain cannot be totally removed without risking impairment of body function. However, new techniques in brain surgery -- sometimes with the use of a microscope -- permit treatment of tumors once considered inoperable. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are often used after surgery, although the sensitivity of brain tissue demands that these be administered cautiously.

Lung Cancer

Cigarette smoking is generally accepted as the major cause of lung cancer. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in men, and in recent years the incidence of lung cancer in women has been growing, probably as a result of the increase in the number of women who smoke. The incidence of lung cancer is also increasing among nonsmokers.

Those who smoke and are over 45 or who have a family history of lung cancer should be on the lookout for symptoms, since the early signs -- a persistent cough or lingering respiratory discomfort -- can be very mild. Later, coughing will increase, as will chest pain and shortness of breath, and blood may be found in the sputum (the material coughed up from the lungs).

If it is relatively confined, a cancerous tumor in the lung is usually removed surgically. It is sometimes necessary to remove an entire lobe of the lung. Because lung cancers are usually not detected until they are well advanced, surgery alone may not be able to eliminate them, and radiation and chemotherapy may be used in combination with or in place of surgery.

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. If it is relatively confined, a cancerous tumor in the lung is usually removed surgically

In recent years, the deadliest form of lung cancer, small-cell carcinoma (also called oat-cell carcinoma), has yielded to a new drug therapy that has produced remission (absence of symptoms) in some patients. Unfortunately, the remission is often not permanent.

Skin Cancer

About 300,000 cases of skin cancer are discovered every year. Its incidence increases every year (particularly among women, perhaps because people currently are getting more exposure to sunlight. The ultraviolet rays of the sun are a major cause of skin cancer. Fair-skinned people have less melanin (a protective substance in the skin) than dark-skinned people do and are therefore more susceptible to the effects of these rays. Skin cancer can also result from prolonged exposure to certain chemicals, such as arsenic compounds. Burn scars and skin diseases sometimes develop into cancer.

Symptoms of skin cancer are a change in the surface of the skin, a wound that does not heal, and a sudden major change in a wart, mole, or birthmark. All such suspicious signs should be examined by a doctor.

Most skin cancers are highly treatable. Some can be removed in a doctor's office or an outpatient clinic. But since some forms of skin cancer can spread throughout the body, it is important that they be treated early. The most dangerous skin cancer, malignant melanoma, can metastasize through the lymph and vascular systems.

Skin cancer is an unusual form of cancer in that it can be prevented easily. Fair-skinned people and anyone with a family history of skin cancer should avoid exposure to the sun. Additionally, everyone who spends time in the sun should apply a protective sunscreen to exposed portions of the body. It is important that children, whose skin is more sensitive, be protected against the sun. The use of certain drugs, such as barbiturates, antibiotics, and birth control pills, can increase the sensitivity of the skin.

In the next section, we will look at gastrointestinal cancers, which include colon and stomach cancers.

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.

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