Cancer Overview: Causes, Signs and Symptoms, and Treatments
Health July 16, 2018

Cancer Overview: Causes, Signs and Symptoms, and Treatments

Cancer occurs when normal bodily cells begin to grow abnormally and in an uncontrolled manner within the body. Cancer can occur throughout the body, which is why cancer is the leading cause of death on a global level—or 8.2 million deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

There are well over 200 different types of cancer, accounting for almost 1,689,000 cancer cases reported yearly in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society. The most prevalent cancers that cause the most cancer-related deaths yearly are lung cancer, stomach cancer, liver cancer, colon cancer, breast cancer, and bladder cancer.

While cancer presents differently according to the type and the patient (i.e., current health, age, existing conditions, etc.), these common causes of cancer, or cancer-related causative agents, are almost always the root cause, including:

  • Heredity (family history or genetics)
  • Smoking
  • Exposure to ionizing radiation
  • Long-term chemical or toxin exposure

Cancer signs and symptoms and signs can differ largely depending on the type of cancer, the cancer stage (or how far the cancer has progressed), and the patient’s current health (i.e., do they have an existing condition that may exacerbate symptoms. However, several common cancer indicators do tend to overlap. Let’s take a look at some of the most prevalent types of cancer and the associated symptoms:

1. Breast cancer
The American Cancer Society notes that breast cancer is the most common cancer among women as well as the second leading cause of female cancer deaths, with roughly 252,710 cases reported yearly. Breast cancer is linked to inherited mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, and is most commonly detected when a lump or cancerous mass is found in or near the breast. However, changes in breast tissues (i.e., (such as nipple discharge, tenderness and swelling, redness, thickening, and scaling may be indications of cancer in the breasts. Thankfully, breast cancer is considered easier to detect compared to many other types of cancer. To remove breast cancer, a surgical oncologist will typically remove the tumor. Radiation and/or chemotherapy may also be used to further eradicate the cancer.

2. Lung cancer
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death among both men and women. The main cause is smoking, which is linked back to roughly 80% of lung cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society. Unfortunately, common signs of lung cancer (i.e., chest pain, voice issues, shortness of breath, chronic cough, blood in mucus, and frequent bronchitis or pneumonia infections) don’t typically present until the cancer has progressed. To treat lung cancer, surgery is commonly combined with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy depending on the cancer stage.

3. Bladder cancer
While bladder cancer impact both male and female patients, this cancer is four times more frequent in male (mainly caucasian patients) vs. female patients. The American Cancer Society estimates more than 79,000 bladder cancer diagnosis this year with symptoms including increased urination, burning or pain while urinating, and traces of blood in urine. Treatments for bladder cancer depend on cancer progression and can include surgery, which is most commonly a transurethral bladder tumor resection (or TURBT) procedure that removes cancerous tissues by inserting a cystoscope via the urethra and bladder. Radiation, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy given as intravesical therapy (i.e., interferon, and bacillus Calmette-Guerin or BCG).

4. Melanoma (skin cancer)
The American Cancer Society considered skin cancer the most prevalent U.S. cancer, with roughly 87,100 cases reported annually. The most common cause is UV sun exposure, which can alter the shape, size, and texture of skin markings and moles. This is why if a new mole develops or an old skin marking changes, it should be brought to the attention of your doctor immediately. Surgery is the most common treatment for skin cancer, and may be combined with radiation, chemo, and immunotherapy.

5. Prostate cancer
Accounting for roughly 161,360 cancer diagnosis yearly, the American Cancer Society notes that prostate cancer is the second-most reported cancer among male cancer patients and the third leading cause of cancer-related death among male patients, mainly affecting males of African American descent (74%). Early warning symptoms of prostate cancer include blood in urine, urination issues (i.e., frequency, interrupted or stopped urine flow, burning during urination), general weakness, and pain in the bones of the ribs, spine, and hips once the cancer has spread (or metastasize). Many early stage prostate cancers are not treated right away, but rather monitored closely for growth. The rest of cases are treated via a combination of surgical tumor removal (or cryosurgery), radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and vaccine treatments.

6. Ovarian cancer
Although ovarian cancer is considered relatively rare, it’s a major killer among women because there are no clear early warning indicators or screening tests for this cancer. This means many cases of ovarian cancers aren’t diagnosed until the advanced stages. Akin to breast cancer, ovarian cancers tend to develop due to inherited mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.Treatment plans for ovarian cancer typically include surgery to remove the tumor combined with chemotherapy.