Cancer: Types, Causes & Symptoms

by Meenakshi Nagdeve last updated -

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Cancer is one of the leading causes of death around the world. According to the statistics by the American Cancer Society, about 15.5 million people in Americans are living with a history of cancer.

What is Cancer?

Cancer is a broad term for diseases characterized by the presence of continuously dividing cells. Cells are induced to divide due to certain external or internal stimuli. Initially, the growth of cells is localized, detectable, and removable, it is called a benign tumor. A benign tumor can be treated or removed via surgery. However, if the cells have traveled to distant body parts via the blood or lymphatic system, and started their division again, it forms a malignant tumor or cancer. This cannot be cured and often ends in the death of an individual.

Pencil eraser erasing cancer text written on a white background

Types

There are different types of cancer; these include the cancer of the skin, bones, blood, ovaries, pancreas, breast, and more. There are almost as many types as there are organs in our body. Let us look at some of the most common ones in detail.

  • Bladder Cancer: It is a common type of cancer mostly resulting in transitional cell carcinoma, which is also called urothelial carcinoma. Smoking is one of the primary causes of bladder cancer.
  • Breast Cancer: This is one of the most common types of invasive cancer in females. It starts off with a malignant tumor either in the lobules or the milk ducts. Around 18.5% of the overall breast cancer cases result in death over the globe every year, one of the causes being the eating and lifestyle habits of a person. Symptoms include a visible lump on or around the breast, redness of the breast skin, swelling and pain in the armpit, bloody discharge from the nipples, and change in the texture of nipple.
  • Uterine Cancer: There are two types of uterine cancer: endometrial and uterine sarcoma. While the former is common and can be battled, the latter is a rare type.
  • Kidney Cancer: It can develop in children as well as adults. Renal cell cancer, transitional cell cancer, and Wilms tumor are the main types of kidney cancer.
  • Liver Cancer: It can be of two types –  hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma).
  • Lung Cancer: Uncontrolled growth of malignant tissue in the lung is the cause of lung cancer or lung carcinoma. It is the number one cause of death in the US. The biggest cause is exposure to tobacco smoke, be it passive or direct. Symptoms of lung cancer include shortness of breath, difficulty in swallowing, chest pain, wheezing, coughing, coughing up blood, and more.
  • Prostate Cancer: It begins in the prostate gland of the body, which is only found in men, and therefore only men are affected by this type. Most men with this disease usually go undiagnosed throughout their life, until death. This is due to its very slow progression and rather common symptoms.
  • Skin Cancer: It is caused by the malignant growth of the skin and is also called carcinoma, which means a cancer of outer cover-forming tissues. There are three major types: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. All these are commonly caused by exposure to harmful UV rays from the sun or tanning beds, radiation from x-ray machines, and immunosuppression as a result of HIV, chemotherapy, and other medications.

Cancer can manifest in a variety of different types based on its origins or mode of cell growth. Some other widely occurring types include the following:

  • Leukemia: Cancer of blood-forming cells.
  • Lymphoma: Cancer of the immune system cells.
  • Sarcoma: Cancer of the supportive tissues like cartilage and blood vessels.
  • CNS cancer: Cancer of the components of the central nervous system like the spinal cord and brain.

Causes

According to the American Cancer Society, cancer can be caused by a number of factors, these include environmental, lifestyle, and other behavioral patterns. Here, we discuss all the major, minor, and common factors that can lead to this deadly condition.

  • Carcinogens: Carcinogens are cancer-causing substances which include chemicals or physical and biological agents. Although the presence of carcinogens is harmful, it doesn’t mean that every carcinogen may necessarily cause cancer. Other factors like the amount of exposure and genetic background have an equal influence on the development of this condition.
  • Smoking and tobacco: Smoking and tobacco are enumerated as one of the biggest causes of cancer. They can cause lung, throat, esophagus, bladder, pancreatic, and respiratory tract cancer. Even people who are indirectly exposed to cigarette smoke are at risk of it. It is also believed that cigarette smoke is indirectly responsible for kidney, stomach, and liver cancer. Having said that, it’s not exactly tobacco that causes it, but rather the carcinogens or chemicals present in it that may result in this condition. These include nicotine, lead, benzene, carbon monoxide, ammonia, etc.
  • Diet and physical activity: Another cancer-causing factor is an unhealthy diet. A diet filled with fat, sodium, sugar, etc. can trigger obesity, which can result in cancer. Excessive use of alcohol is also a major cause. A sedentary lifestyle can also add to your body weight along with the poor dietary routine. Therefore, it is very important to pay proper attention to what you’re eating and how you’re physically straining yourself to get rid of these toxins.
  • Radiation from the sun: There are many places where one can be exposed to radiations, like X-ray machinesmines, etc. But, they are not the most prominent cause of radiation based cancers. Too much exposure to UV rays from the sun can cause skin damage and also lead to skin cancer. This is not to say that the sun is harmful; it just means that too much exposure to anything, even otherwise beneficial to health, can lead to drastic effects on your health.
  • Viruses and infections: There are many viruses and diseases that can cause cancer, if not paid proper attention. These include hepatitis B, hepatitis C, human papillomavirus (HPV), Epstein-Barr, etc. In developing and underdeveloped regions like Asia and Africa, the risk of parasitic organisms increases; like Clonorchis sinensis, Schistosoma haematobium, etc. Therefore, it is important that you live in proper hygienic conditions and drink clean water to avoid these parasites.

Other than these factors, it can also be a result of genetics or hormones. Though, rare, it can also be hereditary.

Symptoms

There are different signs and symptoms of cancer in both men and women. They are sometimes clearly visible and other times hard to notice. The common symptoms include:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Unusual discharge from the body
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Pain in the body parts
  • A persistent cough
  • Lumps at the place of the tumor
  • Changes in the bladder or bowel movements
  • Slow healing of wounds
  • Indigestion
  • Changes in shape or size of existing moles

Specific Symptoms in Certain Cancers

Along with general symptoms, there are many other signs that are specific to particular types of cancer.

  • Breast Cancer: Any changes in the breast, like the formation of any lumps, nipple discharge, puckering of the breast skin
  • Ovarian Cancer: Excessive bloating that continues for more than two weeks, accompanied by weight loss and bleeding, spotting or bleeding between periods, or bleeding after menopause can also be indicators.
  • Colon, Bladder or Prostate Cancer: Changes in urination, including difficulty in urinating, straining while urinating, blood in urine, etc. Prolonged constipation, irregular bowel habits or even a change in the size of stool should be paid attention to.
  • Bone Cancer: Pain and tenderness in the hip bone and lower back.
  • Lung Cancer: Excessive coughing, blood in the mucus, without a stuffed nose or fever. Blood in the mucus can also be a symptom.
  • Skin Cancer: Wounds take a lot of time to heal, changes in the skin color – the yellowish color of the skin.
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About the Author

Meenakshi Nagdeve, Co-Founder, Organic Facts is a health and wellness enthusiast and is responsible for managing it. She has completed the Nutrition And Healthy Living Cornell Certificate Program, Cornell University, US. She holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Management from IIM Bangalore and B. Tech in Metallurgical Engineering and Materials Science from IIT Bombay. Prior to this, she worked for a few years in IT and Financial services. An ardent follower of naturopathy, she believes in healing with foods. In her free time, she loves to travel and taste different types of teas.

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