As soon as you are thrust into the new role as a Cancer Caregiver, you will also be thrown into an entirely new world of vocabulary. So, this week I am going back to the basics. I will be laying out the very basic definitions that will undoubtedly find their way into your daily vocabulary list.
So, sit back and enjoy. Take notes and start asking yourself important questions!
Cancer: There are more than 200 types of cancer distinguishes into general categories of liquid cancers [leukemia (blood), lymphoma (lymph system), myeloma (plasma/bone), and sold cancers which appear as cell mass, clump or tumor [including breast cancer, skin cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, liver cancer, pancreatic cancer, brain cancer, bone cancer, etc.] Cancer symptoms vary widely based on the the type and level of development of the cancer in the body.
The word “cancer” comes from the Greek word karkinos or “crab.” Cancer is characterized by the uncontrolled growth of a group of mutated normal cells (tumors) that reach out crab-like infecting surrounding healthy cells.
Not all tumors are cancerous. A Benign tumor (or kind tumor) is not cancerous; benign tumors tend to grow more slowly and their cells tend to stay together. A malignant tumor (or evil tumor) is made up of abnormal cells that divide rapidly or uncontrollably and invade nearby healthy cells, or migrate to another organ/another part of the body.
Cancer is fundamentally a genetic disease. Cancer begins by a single cell undergoing genetic mutation and dividing to form two mutated cells, who divide…and divide…etc., finally becoming malignant cancer cells expressing mutations that signal uncontrolled cell growth and adaptation, and mutations that inhibit signals to suppress cell growth or signal death to the cell. To use an automobile energy analogy: the gear shift breaks off, stuck in “drive” sending a constant signal to that transmission to engage forward motion; similarly brake fluid has drained out from a leak in the brake line, and even if you stop on the brake pedal you are unable to signal the breaks to suppress the forward movement.
Cancer is stuck in “drive” and the breaks don’t work.
But this happens in stages – mutations are very rare occurrences. Fully malignant cancer usually grows slowly taking years or decade to emerge; someone can smoke all their life but the malignant tumor doesn’t appear until old age. It depends on how quickly the gene mutations occur and the type of cancer involved. Advanced cancer usually results from prolonged metastases (spread) where the cancer just takes over entire parts of the body, beginning to limit the life expectancy of the cancer patient.
Cancer tumors become mutated versions of healthy cells and consequent mutations allow the tumor to travel through the blood or the lymph systems (metastasize) spreading to colonize and infect other tissues or organs. Another characteristic allows the cancerous cells to draw blood vessels to themselves to provide the cancer tumor with nutrition (angiogenesis). Still another adaption excretes any toxic or waste substances from within the cell, an adaptation rendering medications like chemotherapy to ultimately become ineffective. Cancer cells are just truncated but perverted versions of our healthy selves using the same functional cellular mechanisms to survive.
Oncology: From the ancient Greek onkos, meaning bulk, mass, burden, or tumor, is a branch of medicine that deals with malignant tumors or cancer. A medical professional who practices oncology is an oncologist.
Biopsy: A test used to confirm/negate a cancer diagnosis. A biopsy is performed when a tissue sample is analyzed under a microscope to determine if it exhibits cancerous growth.
So, what did you learn from these basic definitions? Feel free to leave questions/comments/additions to my definitions.