Archives for posts with tag: Cancer

The previous two posts talked about surgery and chemotherapy as options in cancer treatment. The last option to be discussed is radiation therapy. Often, radiation therapy is used in conjunction with surgery and chemotherapy to treat cancer.

Radiation therapy is the usage of high-energy waves and particles (radiation) to attack cancer cells. There are many types of radiation. Microwaves use radiation to heat up food. Likewise, x-rays use radiation to image bones. Radiation therapy uses the same radiation as x-rays in higher doses to treat some types of cancer.

With radiation therapy, special equipment sends high doses of radiation to the cancer cells or tumor. The radiation either kills the cancer cells or prevents the cells from growing and making more cancer cells. The radiation also affects healthy normal cells near the tumor but normal cells can repair themselves while cancer cells cannot.

Radiation therapy is different from chemotherapy in that radiation only affects the part of the body being treated while chemotherapy affects the whole body. As a result, radiation is used for localized tumors while chemotherapy is used on patients that have cancer in multiple areas.


Radiation can be administered in two ways: external beam radiation and internal radiation therapy.  External beam radiation uses a machine to send high-energy radiation from outside the body to the tumor and some of the area around the tumor. External beam radiation treatments for most people are 5 days a week for 1 to 10 weeks. The number of treatments required depends on the size and type of cancer, how healthy you are, and what other treatments you are receiving.

External radiation therapy is painless and takes only a few minutes, however, it takes time to set the machines up so appointments generally take 15 to 30 minutes. While receiving treatment, the patient will lie flat on a treatment table under the radiation machine. While the machine is working, the patient will hear a number of clicking and whirring. As stated previously, the treatment should only take a few minutes.

Internal radiation therapy involves using a source of radiation that is located inside the body. The source of radiation may look like a wire or pellet and is called an implant. The implant is inserted very near or inside the tumor and the radiation travels a very short distance. Implants are placed in the body using needle-like tubes. The implants can either be left in or taken out. If the implants are left in, you will not be allowed to do certain things like being near children or pregnant women for a short period of time. Implants will stop giving off radiation after a few weeks and well cause no harm. Other times, the implants are taken out after they have been in place for several hours or days. While the implants are in the body, the patient must remain in a private hospital room. Doctors and nurses will monitor the patient but they will have to limit contact with the patient. After the implants are removed, the treated area may be sore but normally, patients get back to normal quickly.

As with the other treatments, there are a number of side effects associated with radiation therapy. The most common side effects are fatigue, skin changes, and appetite loss.

The following video explains what to expect when going in for a radiation therapy treatment:

For more information on radiation therapy, please visit:


The previous blog post discussed surgery as a cancer treatment option. However, it is not the only option available to cancer patients. Surgery is often used in combination with chemotherapy and radiation therapy to fight cancer.  Chemotherapy can be used to shrink tumors before surgery or radiation. Also, chemotherapy can be used after surgery or radiation to kill any cancer cells that are left.

Chemotherapy is the use of strong drugs to treat cancer. Chemotherapy was first used as a cancer treatment in the 1950s. There are over 100 chemotherapy drugs used today. A doctor will choose which drugs to use based on the type of cancer and how far it has progressed. In addition to its usage in curing cancer, chemotherapy is also used to slow cancer’s growth, to keep cancer from spreading, to kill cancer cells that may have spread to other parts of the body, and to relieve pain and blockages caused by cancer.


Chemotherapy drugs target rapidly dividing cells in the body. This includes cancer cells as well as normal tissue cells. However, normal tissue cells can generally repair themselves and recover from the damage done to them by chemo drugs.

Chemotherapy is administered in a number of ways.  Generally, chemo is administered directly into the bloodstream using a tiny plastic tube that is put in a vein called a catheter. This method of chemo administration is called intravenous chemo. Chemo can be a pill or liquid that is taken like any other drug under the doctor’s directions.  Chemo can also administered with a needle like a flu shot. Lastly, chemo can be administered directly onto the spine, chest, skin, or abdomen.

Chemotherapy is generally done in cycles, with breaks in between. These breaks allow the body to repair itself and rebuild healthy new cells in between chemotherapy cycles. Chemotherapy can be administered once a day, once a week, or even once a month. How often one receives chemotherapy and how long they receive chemotherapy treatments for depends on the type of cancer, the treatment goals, and how one’s body responds to the drugs used. Other than a little pain from when a needle is used, chemotherapy should not cause any pain.

As chemotherapy drugs are extremely strong, there are a number of side effects associated with chemo. However, some people may have no side effects at all. If the side effects become really bad, a doctor may suggest blood tests to find out if a lower dosage is needed or if longer breaks are needed between doses. The side effects of chemotherapy generally will go away with time after the treatments end but how long it takes varies from person to person.

Common chemotherapy side effects included nausea and vomiting, hair loss, bone marrow changes, mouth and skin changes, changes in your sex life, permanent fertility problems, memory changes, and emotional changes. Bone marrow changes can affect your red blood cell count, resulting in shortness of breath, can affect your white blood cell count, resulting in an increased chance of infection, and can affect your platelet count, making you susceptible to bleeding.

More information on chemotherapy can be found at:

The following video explains what you can expect when receiving chemotherapy.

Cancer treatments are personalized for each individual and type of cancer. For example, a patient with breast cancer and a patient with leukemia would not receive the same treatments. Traditionally, there have been three main treatments for cancer: surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Each treatment type comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. These three treatment options are often used in tandem with each other to maximize their effectiveness. This post will focus on the different types of and uses for surgical treatments.


Surgery is the oldest form of cancer treatment. It also plays a key role in diagnosing cancer and finding out how far it has spread. Advances in surgical techniques have allowed surgeons to operate on a large number of patients and have good outcomes. Invasive surgeries are surgeries where the surgeon has to cut into the body of the patient. With today’s medical advances, surgeries have become less invasive and the result is less damage to nearby tissues and organs.

Surgeries offer the greatest chance for cure for many types of cancer and most cancer patients will have some type of surgery as part of their treatment. In cancer treatment, surgery can be done for a number of reasons. Preventive surgery is done to remove tissue that is likely to become cancer, even before there are signs of cancer. For example, women with a strong family history of breast cancer may consider having a preventive mastectomy.  A preventive mastectomy means that the breasts are removed before cancer is found.

Diagnostic surgeries are used to find out if cancer is present or what type of cancer it is. Surgery is done to remove a piece of tissue from the patient for analysis. This procedure is called a biopsy. The tissue sample is then diagnosed under a microscope to identify if cancer is present and what type of cancer it is.

Surgeries are also used to figure out how much a cancer has spread in a process called staging. In addition to surgeries, imaging tests like x-rays, CT scans, MRIs, ultrasounds, and PET scans are also used. For more information on diagnostic surgeries and staging surgeries, go to

Curative surgery is used when cancer is found in only one area of the body and it is likely that all of the cancer can be removed. Often these surgeries are done along with chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Debulking surgery is done to remove a portion of the cancer but not all. Removal of the entire cancer may cause too much damage to an organ. With debulking surgery, chemotherapy or radiation Is used to eliminate the remaining cancer.

Palliative surgery is done to treat problems caused by advanced cancer. Rather than curing the cancer, palliative surgery can be used to lessen discomfort or pain caused by the cancer. Also, with cancers of the abdomen, tumors may grow large enough to block off the intestines. Palliative surgery can be used to remove the blockage.

Supportive surgery is done to help other types of treatment. For example, ports can be surgically placed into a large vein. These ports can be used to give treatments and draw blood rather than having to use needles every time.

Restorative or reconstructive surgery is used to improve the appearance of a patient after major cancer surgery. Examples of restorative surgery include breast reconstruction after a mastectomy for breast cancer or prosthetics after surgery for head and neck cancers.

Below is a video explaining the surgery involved with breast cancer.

According to a publication written by Douglas Hanahan from the Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research and the UCSF Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics and Robert A. Weinberg from the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, there are six biological capabilities acquired during the development of human tumors that are defined as the hallmarks of cancer. The six hallmarks include sustaining proliferative signaling, evading growth suppressors, resisting cell death, enabling replicative immortality, inducing angiogenesis, and activating invasion and metastasis. That may all sounds complex and confusing but over the course of this post, I will explain each of the hallmarks individually in a simple to understand fashion.


One of the most fundamental traits of cancer is the ability for cancer cells to grow and duplicate constantly. When cells grow and duplicate, it is referred to as proliferation. Normal tissue cells control and regulate the production of signals that promote proliferation in cells, therefore maintaining a balance of cell number and function. Cancer cells, on the other hand, do not regulate these proliferation signals and they sustain proliferative signaling causing cancers to grow uncontrollably.

In addition to normal tissue regulating the signals that promote proliferation, normal tissue also use growth suppressors to inhibit cell growth. Cancer cells have been able to evade these growth suppressors, also allowing them to grow uncontrollably. In human cells, there are dozens of growth suppressors that operate in a number of ways to limit cell proliferation. It has been discovered that in animal and human cancers, these growth suppressors are nearly always inactivated.

In addition to growing uncontrollably, cancers also resist cell death or apoptosis. In normal cells, “contact inhibition”, a mechanism that promotes cell death when the population of normal cells becomes too dense, regulates cell numbers. Cancer cells lose this “contact inhibition” and can grow indefinitely to form tumors. Also, apoptosis or cell death serves as a natural barrier to cancer development in normal cells. Cancer cells avoid apoptosis; as a result, tumors are able to grow indefinitely.

Normal cells can only replicate a limited number of times before being unable to replicate anymore. Cancer cells require unlimited replicative potential in order to generate macroscopic (visible to the human eye) tumors. As a result, cancer cells come up with a number of mechanisms for enabling replicative immortality.

Like normal tissue, cancerous tissue requires nutrients and oxygen as well as a way to get rid of wastes and carbon dioxide. Tumors address these needs through the induction of angiogenesis. Angiogenesis is the creation of blood vessels. Blood vessels to and through the cancerous tumors allow the tumors to receive the nutrients and oxygen they need and eliminate wastes and carbon dioxide.

Lastly, cancers activate invasion and metastasis. Cancers begin in a localized area. After growing to a respectable size, cancers will attempt to spread to other parts of the body by using the circulatory system and lymphatic system. Once the cancer spreads to other parts of the body, the cancer will attempt to grow in its new locations.

The original publication can be found at Please be aware that this is a very scientific and difficult read.

Cancer is a broad group of diseases, all of which involve unregulated cell growth. There are over 200 different known cancers that affect humans.  The type of cell that is initially affected classifies each cancer. Cancer harms the body when affected or damaged cells divide uncontrollably to form tumors or masses of tissue. Benign tumors generally demonstrate limited growth and stay in a single spot. On the other hand, malignant tumors spread to other parts of the body using the blood and lymph systems. Malignant tumors are more dangerous than benign tumors.

A short video explaining what cancer is:

Normal healthy cells go through a cell cycle of growth, division, and death.  Normally, different genes in the cell cycle tell the cell when to divide and when not to divide, fix any errors in the replication of the cells, and if anything goes wrong, to kill the cells through a process called apoptosis. In cancer cells, these genes are damaged or mutated and therefore do not perform their roles in cell division, resulting in uncontrollable cell growth.


A number of factors can increase ones chances of getting cancer. Genes inherited from family members can increase ones chance of getting cancer. It is possible to be born with genetic mutations or faulty genes that statistically increases one’s chances of getting cancer later in life.  Exposure to carcinogens, a class of substances that is directly responsible for damaging DNA, also increase ones chances of getting cancer. Examples of carcinogens are tobacco, arsenic, radiation, and asbestos. Lastly, several viruses have been linked to cancer such as HPV (which is linked to cervical cancer), hepatitis B and C (which is linked to liver cancer), and HIV.

Cancer symptoms are varied and depend greatly on many factors such as where the cancer is located, where it has spread, and how big the tumor is. Certain cancers can be seen through the skin. For example, a lump on the breast can be an indicator of breast cancer or a bump on the testicle can be an indicator of testicular cancer. Changes in a wart or mole on the skin are an indicator of skin cancer. Other cancers have symptoms that are not as visible. Colon, bladder, and prostate cancers do not have any visible indicators but can be indicated by other symptoms. Colon cancer often results in constipation and diarrhea. Bladder and prostate cancers cause changes in bladder function. Pain may not be felt until the tumor has grown and begins to push against nearby nerves.

There is no single treatment for cancer and patients often receive several treatments crafted specifically for them. Cancer treatment depends on the type of cancer, how much the cancer has spread, and other factors such as age and health. Cancer treatments can be grouped into surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy. If the cancer has not spread, surgery can be used to completely remove the cancer from the body, effectively curing the patient. Radiation involves focusing high-energy beams onto the cancer cells, forcing them to commit suicide. Normally, these high-energy beams would damage normal, healthy tissue but medical advances have made it so that the beams can be accurately targeted. Chemotherapy uses chemicals that target rapidly dividing cells in the body (not just cancer cells). However, normal cells can usually recover from the damage induced by chemotherapy while cancer cells cannot. Chemotherapy treatment is performed in cycles so that the body has time to heal between doses.

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