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Learn About Cancer

Cancer Causes

Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body. Cancerous cells are also called malignant cells.

Cells are the building blocks of living things. Cancer grows out of normal cells in the body. Normal cells multiply when the body needs them, and die when the body doesn't. Cancer appears to occur when the growth of cells in the body is out of control and cells divide too rapidly. It can also occur when cells “forget” how to die.

There are many different kinds of cancers. Cancer can develop in almost any organ or tissue, such as the lung, colon, breast, skin, bones, or nerve tissue.
There are multiple causes of cancers, including:

• Radiation
• Sunlight
• Tobacco
• Certain viruses
• Benzene
• Certain poisonous mushrooms and aflatoxins (a poison produced by organisms that can grow on peanut plants)

However, the cause of many cancers remains unknown.

Review Date: 9/11/2006
Reviewed By: Rita Nanda, M.D., Department of Medicine, Section of Hematology/Oncology, University of Chicago Medical Center, Chicago, IL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2008 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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Cancer Symptoms

Symptoms of cancer depend on the type and location of the tumor. For example, lung cancer can cause coughing, shortness of breath, or chest pain, while colon cancer often causes diarrhea, constipation, and blood in the stool.

Some cancers may not have any symptoms at all. In some cancers, such as gallbladder cancer, symptoms often are not present until the disease has reached an advanced stage.

However, the following symptoms are common with most cancers:

• Fever
• Chills
• Night sweats
• Weight loss
• Loss of appetite
• Fatigue
• Malaise

Review Date: 9/11/2006
Reviewed By: Rita Nanda, M.D., Department of Medicine, Section of Hematology/Oncology, University of Chicago Medical Center, Chicago, IL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2008 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
adam.com

Cancer Types

The three most common cancers in men in the United States are prostate cancer, lung cancer, and colon cancer.  In women in the U.S., the three most frequently occurring cancers are breast cancer, lung cancer, and colon cancer.
The most common cause of cancer-related death is lung cancer.

Certain cancers are more common in particular geographic areas. For example, in Japan, there are many cases of gastric cancer, while in the U.S. this type of cancer is relatively rare. Differences in diet may play a role.

Some other types of cancers include:

• Brain cancer
• Cervical cancer
• Uterine cancer
• Liver cancer
• Leukemia
• Hodgkin's lymphoma
• Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
• Kidney cancer
• Ovarian cancer
• Skin cancer
• Testicular cancer
• Thyroid cancer

Review Date: 9/11/2006
Reviewed By: Rita Nanda, M.D., Department of Medicine, Section of Hematology/Oncology, University of Chicago Medical Center, Chicago, IL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2008 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
adam.com

Diagnosing Cancer

Like symptoms, the signs of cancer vary based on the type and location of the tumor. Common tests include the following:

• CT scan
• Complete blood count (CBC)
• Blood chemistries
• Biopsy of the tumor
• Bone marrow biopsy (for lymphoma or leukemia)
• Chest x-ray

Most cancers are diagnosed by biopsy. Depending on the location of the tumor, the biopsy may be a simple procedure or a serious operation. Most patients with cancer undergo CT scans to determine the exact location of the tumor or tumors.

A cancer diagnosis is difficult to cope with. It is important, however, that you discuss the type, size, and location of the cancer with your doctor upon diagnosis. You also will want to ask about treatment options, along with their benefits and risks.

It's a good idea to have someone with you at the doctor's office to help you get through the diagnosis. If you have trouble asking questions after hearing about your diagnosis, the person you bring with you can ask them for you.

Review Date: 9/11/2006
Reviewed By: Rita Nanda, M.D., Department of Medicine, Section of Hematology/Oncology, University of Chicago Medical Center, Chicago, IL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2008 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
adam.com

Cancer Treatments

Treatment also varies based on the type of cancer and its stage. The stage of a cancer refers to how much it has grown and whether the tumor has spread from its original location.

  • If the cancer is confined to one location and has not spread, the goal for treatment would be surgery and cure. This is often the case with skin cancers.
  • If the tumor has spread to local lymph nodes only, sometimes these can also be removed.
  • If all of the cancer cannot be removed with surgery, the options for treatment include radiation, chemotherapy, or both. Some cancers require a combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Although treatment for cancer can be difficult, there many ways to keep up your strength.

If you have radiation treatment, know that:

  • Radiation treatment is painless.
  • Treatment is usually scheduled every weekday.
  • You should allow 30 minutes for each treatment session although the treatment itself usually takes only a few minutes.
  • You should get plenty of rest and eat a well-balanced diet during the course of your radiation therapy.
  • Skin in the treated area may become sensitive and easily irritated.
  • Side effects of radiation treatment are usually temporary and vary depending on the area of the body that is being treated.

If you are going through chemotherapy, you should eat right. Chemotherapy causes your immune system to weaken, so you should avoid people with colds or the flu. You should also get plenty of rest, and don't feel you have to accomplish tasks all at once.

It will help you to talk with family, friends, or a support group about your feelings. Work with your health care providers throughout your treatment. Helping yourself can make you feel more in control.

Review Date: 9/11/2006
Reviewed By: Rita Nanda, M.D., Department of Medicine, Section of Hematology/Oncology, University of Chicago Medical Center, Chicago, IL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2008 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
adam.com

Diet & Nutrition

People with cancer are at risk for developing nutritional deficiencies. The deficiencies may be the result of the cancer itself, or the side effects of common cancer treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

Malignancies directly compromise nutritional status by altering metabolism and causing loss of appetite. Changes in metabolism include an increased basal metabolic rate and increased spending of energy. This increase in energy use means you'll require more calories to maintain your current weight and lean body mass.

There are also individual alterations in carbohydrate, protein, and fat metabolism. These changes lead to the loss of muscle and fat stores. Cancer-associated loss of appetite is probably the result of physical changes but may also be due to a psychological response to the disease.

There are several factors that may contribute to the type and degree of nutrient deficiencies:

• The primary organ where the cancer occurs
• The severity of the cancer at the time of diagnosis
• The symptoms experienced by the person with cancer
• The type and frequency of the cancer treatment being used (surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy) and the side effects associated with that treatment
• The effect of the cancer or disease on food and nutrient ingestion, tolerance, and utilization
Food Sources

People with cancer frequently require a high-calorie diet to prevent weight loss. They may also need a diet that is high in protein to prevent muscle wasting. Foods that are high in calories and protein include peanut butter, whole milk, milkshakes, meats, and cheeses.

Some individuals with cancer develop an aversion to fats. If this happens, eat high-protein foods with a lower fat content such as low-fat shakes, yogurt, cottage cheese, lean meats.

For the diet to remain well-balanced, you must eat fruits and vegetables. To increase calories, use more fruit juices or dried fruits rather than whole fruits. Choosing calorie-dense vegetables such as corn and peas will also increase the calories in the diet.

Side Effects

The side effects of common cancer therapies vary according to the treatment and the area of the body undergoing treatment. The following are some side effects and some helpful suggestions. They do not replace, but rather aid, drugs used to relieve these symptoms.

CHEWING AND SWALLOWING DIFFICULTY

Thick liquids such as milkshakes or semisolid foods like mashed potatoes and gravy may be easier to swallow and are less likely to cause aspiration (inhaling food).

PAIN, NAUSEA, VOMITING, DIARRHEA

Eating a meal immediately before or after the administration of the treatment may ease these symptoms. Your position while eating may also contribute to these symptoms.

TASTE ALTERATIONS AND AVERSIONS

• Eat bland foods. Avoid strong flavors like spices, acidic foods, and sour tasting foods.
• Eat cold foods. Avoid hot or warm foods.
• Avoid foods with strong odors.
• If you are experiencing severe nausea, avoid any favorite foods. Eating a food during severe bouts of nausea may cause the development of an aversion to it.

BODY WEIGHT LOSS AND MUSCLE WASTING

• Increase protein and calories in the diet.
• Eat smaller, but more frequent meals.
• Add powdered milk to foods and beverages.
• Drink mainly calorie-containing beverages such as juices, milk, or sweetened drinks.
• Add extra eggs or egg whites to foods. Never use raw eggs. They may be contaminated with salmonella, which is dangerous for everyone but especially those who are immune-suppressed. Raw eggs also contain a vitamin binder.
• Add diced meat or cheese to sauces, vegetables, soups, and casseroles.
• Snack throughout the day on calorie-dense foods such as nuts, hard candy, and dried fruits.
• Consider using commercially available nutrition supplements. Make your own high-calorie shake by using an instant breakfast drink mix with milk, fruit, cookies, peanut butter, or other favorite mixers.
• Increasing fats in the diet is an excellent way to increase energy consumption, if you are tolerating fats. Add margarine or butter to breads and vegetables. Add gravies and sauces to foods in liberal amounts.
• If you are unable to digest fat, consult with your health care provider for alternative fat sources. Supplements containing medium-chain triglycerides are often recommended for this purpose.

LACTOSE INTOLERANCE

Some cancer patients become unable to digest dairy products, which is called lactose intolerance. Symptoms include bloating, gas, and diarrhea immediately after eating lactose-containing foods.
People with lactose intolerance have trouble digesting the sugar in milk. Lactose intolerance is due to an inability to produce lactase, the enzyme that digests milk. The wall of the gastrointestinal tract produces this enzyme. Fortunately, lactase can be synthetically produced, purchased over-the-counter, or can be taken orally with milk.
You can also buy lactose-free milk at most grocery stores. Cultured dairy products such as yogurt, cheeses, and buttermilk will have less lactose as the active cultures help to digest it. You may be able to tolerate small amounts of lactose occasionally. You may have to restrict lactose entirely from the diet until you have fully recovered from your cancer therapy.

DUMPING SYNDROME

Surgery on the stomach may cause dumping syndrome. If you have dumping syndrome, food is "dumped" into the small intestine 10 or 15 minutes after being swallowed. Ordinarily, food is partially digested in the stomach, then released gradually into the digestive tract.

The presence of undigested food in the intestine leads to abdominal fullness, nausea and crampy abdominal pain. Other symptoms include feeling warm, dizzy, and faint. You may also experience rapid pulse and cold sweats immediately after eating.
Recommendations for dumping syndrome are:

• Eat smaller, more frequent meals.
• Lie down immediately after eating.
• Restrict refined carbohydrates and increase protein and fat in the diet.
• Drink fluids 30 minutes before a meal or 30 - 60 minutes after a meal.

LOSS OF APPETITE

If you are experiencing loss of appetite, adjust the diet to include any foods that appeal to you. Consider asking your doctor about appetite-stimulating drugs.

Recommendations

Objectives for a cancer treatment diet:

• To achieve or maintain optimal nutrition status
• To make the best of the benefits of therapy the patient is receiving
• To reduce symptoms caused by treatment
• To prevent or reverse loss of fat

A registered dietitian is a trained health professional in the area of nutrition and can assist in nutritional planning for people with cancer.

Your local chapter of The American Cancer Society is an excellent resource for information on cancer prevention and treatment.

Review Date: 8/6/2007
Reviewed By: Cynthia Dennison Haines, MD, family physician specializing in nutrition, fitness, and preventive health, St. John's Mercy Medical Center, St. Louis, MO, and Assistant Clinical Professor, St. Louis University's School of Medicine, Department of Community and Family Medicine.
A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2008 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
adam.com

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