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The Immune System and How Cancer Affects It

The immune system is a network of cells, tissues and organs. This network together helps the body to fight infections and any other diseases. When germs like bacteria or viruses attack, invade and multiply, it is known as infection, and this makes a person sick. Our immune system protects us from the disease by fighting the germs that attack our body. Hence we must protect and keep our immune system healthy.

When a person is affected with cancer, he develops a higher risk of infection. At this time, the cancer cells change the immune system cells; actually, the immune system cells protected our body once but now begin to interfere with its function. Cancer cells get into the bone marrow cells in which blood cells are made.

The Main Parts of the Immune System that Fight Infection are:

  1. White blood cells
  2. Antibodies
  3. The complement system
  4. The lymphatic system
  5. The spleen
  6.  The thymus 
  7. The bone marrow.

Immune System Fights Cancer:

Our immune system protects our body from the harmful effects of the abnormal cells and even from cancer cells. Sometimes the cancer cells escape from getting detected and form tumors. If a tumor is developed the immune system becomes weak, but at times our body’s immune system can fight and destroy cancer from within by re-activating the immune cells. The cancer cells can also protect themselves from being destroyed by the immune system.

Many studies have proved that the best way to fight cancer is to build a robust immune system and allow it to do the work of fighting the cancer. This is known as IMMUNOTHERAPY.

  • Immunotherapy is a cancer treatment, our body’s immune system itself fights the disease.
  • The treatment is also known as Biological Therapy.
  • Our body uses and involves our cells, organs and proteins and fights the illness.
  • Immunotherapy works in different ways- some stop or slow the growth of cancer cells.
  • Some time our immune system- destroy or stop the growth of cancer cells and also from spreading.
  • Immunotherapy can be given separately, or it is combined with other cancer treatments.
  • There are many types of immunotherapy and Cancer Vaccines is one of them.

A CANCER VACCINE: exposes the immune system to a foreign protein, called an antigen

  • Then the immune system identifies and destroys the antigen.
  • There are two types of cancer vaccine prevention and treatment 

Cancer Treatment can Increase Infection Risk:

  • Specific cancer treatments interfere with the way our immune system works, for example, if a person has spleen cancer and the spleen is removed it can be long term damage as the spleen is a part of the immune system.
  • A bone marrow or stem cell transplant treatment high doses are used; this also damages the immune system cells for a long time.

SURGERY:

  1. Any major surgery can weaken the immune system.
  2. The wound caused by any surgery can cause infection.
  3. Antibiotics may be given after surgery to protect from infection.

Chemotherapy:

  • Chemo is the most common cause of a weakened immune system in cancer patients who go through this treatment.
  • Chemo can cause a decrease in the number of white blood cells in the blood; this means that the body cannot fight the infections as it should.

This disadvantage may be because of many reasons, like:

  1. Which chemo drug is used, the dosage used.
  2. How often chemo was given.
  3. The past cancer treatments.
  4. The type of cancer.
  5. The person’s age.
  6. The person’s nutritional status.
  7. The stage of cancer.

Rebuild Immune System After Chemotherapy

The common ways to take care of the immune system are:

  1. sufficient rest
  2. eating a healthy diet
  3. exercising regularly and reduce stress
  4. the best way is to follow the doctor’s advice.
  5. symptoms or signs of infection report to the doctor.
  6. all this should be followed until the immune system is back to normal.

Apart from these treatments, Radiation therapy, targeted therapy can also affect the immune system. So people with poor nutrition can weaken the immune system. They need sufficient vitamins, minerals, calories and proteins to strengthen their immune system.

Cancers That Can Be Treated With Immunotherapy:

  1. Bladder cancer
  2. Breast cancer
  3. Brain cancer
  4. Cervical and Ovarian cancers
  5. Colorectal cancer
  6. Head and Neck cancer
  7. Kidney cancer, liver cancer and lung cancer,
  8. Leukemia
  9. Prostate cancer
  10.  Skin cancer 
  11. Lymphoma

The Two Main Parts of the Immune System:

THE INNATE IMMUNE SYSTEM: 

  • People are born with it, and it is active from birth.
  • When a cell changes into an abnormal cell, our immune system surrounds it and kills it inside the immune system cell itself. These cells are known as PHAGOCYTES.

THE ADAPTIVE ( ACQUIRED ) IMMUNE SYSTEM:

The acquired immune system, along with the innate immune system, produces cells called antibodies that protect the body from abnormal cells. These antibodies protect the patient’s body from the abnormal cells by forming cells called B Lymphocytes.

Boosting of Immune System by Cancer Patients:

  1. Intake of protective drugs for infections or to boost the immune system, this treatment helps the growth of blood cells
  2. Taking flu shots every year or it can be taken two weeks before chemo or in between chemo cycles.
  3. Eating nutritious food with enough calories and nutrients. Wash thoroughly before eating raw fruits and vegetables and cook meat, egg and dairy products well.
  4. Regularly wash hands with soap and warm water, after blowing your nose, spending time in public places and using the washroom.
  5. Do not visit sick people, better to stay away, sharing any items like towels and soap.
  6. Avoid touching animal waste, cages, pens or otherwise wear gloves while handling and wash your hands well.
  7. Any sign of infection report to the treating doctor like fever, cough, sore throat, body pain 
  8. Find out dos and don’ts from the doctor.

Diet to Boost the Immuno System

Foods that boost the immune system

  • citrus fruits
  • red bell peppers
  • broccoli
  • garlic
  • spinach
  • yogurt
  • almonds
  • ginger
  • sunflower seeds
  • turmeric
  • poultry
  • Shellfish

Eating one of these foods is not sufficient to ensure that daily and the required intake is a must. Breakfast eat like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.

Today we are living in the electronic age. Electronics dominate every aspect of human life. The human body is capable of receiving electromagnetic radiation to a certain limit. But we are crossing the required limit which is harmful to our immune system of the body.

We are not aware that the loss of the immune system will lead to multi-organ failure. Though there is no escape from this, one way to protect is by exercise can help in the normal functioning of our immune system. Many are aware but do not follow strictly that less stress, proper sleep, diet and exercise can boost our immune system. In general, Immunotherapy is an important approach to find new cancer treatments.

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Can Cancers in Young Adults Be Prevented?

Cancer starts when cells in a person’s body begin to grow out of control. There are many kinds of cancer, but it starts when abnormal cells grow out of control. Cancer is considered to be the second leading cause of death in the world. Today, millions of people are living with this dreadful disease called cancer. 

Cancers in young adults have become a common disease these days. Cancer is young adults are different from elders and are related to genetic and lifestyle. People under the age group from 14 to 44 years come under this category. When their potential years of life to lead a healthy life is ahead of them and if they need to suffer, it is matter to think and prevent at the earliest.

Common Cancers in Young Adults are:

Men: –Cancer of mouth, Stomach, Testis, Bone and Penis.

Women:–Mouth, Cervix uterus, Breast, Thyroid, and Stomach.

Finding Cancer in Young Adults is Difficult Because:

  • Young adults are generally healthy and do not go to a doctor unless there is a need.
  • The priority list is for other things like—college, career, friends, family, no regular doctor.
  • Financial issues, no health insurance, so do not want to see a doctor.
  • Sometimes even if the symptoms are there, cancer may not be on the list, so a delay in diagnosis.
  • Generally, cancer is overlapped with common illness or injuries, bumps or bruises.
  • Still, if cancer is detected early, treatment will be successful.

Symptoms of Cancer in Young Adults:

Though it is difficult to diagnose cancer in young adults, still some signs and symptoms are:

  1. Lump or swelling in the neck, breast, belly or testicle.
  2. Tiredness or loss of energy that cannot be explained.
  3. Abnormal bleeding.
  4. Pain in one part of the body,
  5. Fever or illness continues for a long time and does not go away.
  6. Frequent headache with vomiting.
  7. Vision changes.
  8. Loss of appetite and so weight loss drastically.
  9. A new mole or spot on the skin and changes in size, shape and colour.

Common Cancer in Young Adults:

The common cancers in young adults are not unique, but still different from those that affect children and older adults. The most common ones are:

    1. Breast cancer: though this common in young adults and can be benign, but sometimes it can be cancer, early diagnosis, better chances of survival.
    2. Lymphomas: it affects the lymph nodes-like tonsils or thymus-organ in front of the heart and can affect the bone marrow and other organs.
    3. Melanoma: a type of skin cancer, this is the most common cancer in youngsters of 30 years of age, especially if it is the family. Can be cured if detected early. 
    4. Sarcomas: muscles, bones or fat cells
    5. Cervix and ovary: most in women, the symptom is abnormal vaginal bleeding.
    6. Thyroid cancer: a lump in front of the neck, mostly found in women, can be cured in young adults.
    7. Testicular cancer: a lump on the testicle swelling or the testicle becomes larger.
    8. Colorectal cancer: cancers of the colon and rectum, for young adults because of inherited genetic disease.
    9. Brain and spinal cord tumours.

Causes of Cancers in Young Adults:

Life style like SMOKING, OVERWEIGHT, EATING UNHEALTHY DIET, NO PROPER EXERCISE AND TOO MUCH CONSUMPTION OF ALCOHOL.

Apart from these, the other causes are – Exposure to ultraviolet light of the sun.

HPV, HIV, treatment with Chemo and Radiation.

Treatment of Cancers in Young Adults:

The treatment for cancers in young adults is the same as in other age groups, it only depends on the type and stage of cancer. The treatments are:

  • SURGERY:  For young adults have a few advantages when it is surgery because health problems are less than older people and anaesthesia is given young people cope better than children.
  • RADIATION THERAPY: High-energy rays are used, may not have many side effects.
  • CHEMOTHERAPY AND OTHER DRUGS: It is treated with the usage of drugs, pills that need to be swallowed and generally young adults can withstand higher doses of chemo than older adults.
  • TARGETED THERAPY: This is by giving newer targeted therapy drugs along with chemo.
  • HORMONE THERAPY: Some hormones grow in the body example breast cancer, so this treatment stops the cancer cells.
  • IMMUNOTHERAPY: The drugs given help the cancer cells that attack the body cells.
  • STEM CELL TRANSPLANT: It is also known as a bone marrow transplant. This treatment is an option because of its side effects and cost.

Common Questions That Are Asked:

  • What problems a young adult face after the treatment for cancer?

Answer: Many of the young adults after treatment get back to normal work and life, but they do face certain physical and psychological problems.  So awareness of the disease and to educate the patient to cope and face life normally with frequent visits to the treating doctor can solve the problem.

  • Why did I get back my cancer? Will I get back cancer?

Answer: Chances of getting back is rare if the treatment was proper and regular checkups were done and if the doctor’s instructions were followed well. Change is lifestyle is a must, like stop smoking, reduce the consumption of alcohol.

Awareness and Knowledge of Cancers in Young Adults:

Awareness and knowledge of cancers in young adults is a must for them as they have a long life ahead of them. Many of them are aware that smoking causes cancer but they are totally or partially ignorant of most of the cancers that can affect them. The best way is to educate them from an early age by conducting seminars and workshops at the high school and college levels.

Short term courses during summer for youngsters can also help them to gain certain knowledge of the dreadful disease known as cancer. If it can be informed that their lifestyle is one of the causes, it can help them to lead protective young adulthood.

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CANCERS BY AGE IN MEN

Cancer is considered to be the second deadliest disease in the world. When cells become abnormal, divide uncontrollably, spread to any part of the body and destroy other tissues it becomes cancerous. Due to new methods of treatment the survival rate is also increasing. There is no particular age for cancer to start, children, women and men are liable to be affected with cancer. It’s also true that men are more prone because of certain life styles that they follow, especially as they age.

Men and Cancer

Always remind the men in your life that cancer risk can be minimized if proper health practices are followed and with regular check up.

Five Most Common Cancers in Men are

  1. Prostate Cancer
  2. Lung Cancer
  3. Colorectal Cancer
  4. Bladder Cancer.
  5. Melanoma ( Skin Cancer).

Prostate Cancer

Prostate Cancer is detected in men above 65 years of age. Generally if there is a history of Prostate cancer in the family, from the age of 40 if an annual screening test can be done for early detection and treatment to reduce the risk factor.

Some cells the prostate gland become abnormal and begin to divide to grow, divide and live then causes cancer. It is a small walnut shaped gland that produces seminal fluid in the sperm. If diagnosed early it can be treated.

Symptoms

  1. The force in the stream of urine decreases, problem while urinating.
  2. Blood is seen in semen.
  3. There is discomfort in the pelvic region.
  4. Bone pain.

Treatment

Chemotherapy, Radiation Therapy, Hormonal Therapy and cryosurgery.

Prevention

  1. Healthy diet like fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Avoid fatty-foods.
  2. Foods rich in vitamins and minerals.
  3. Exercise regularly, keep a check on your weight.
  4. Talk to a doctor about the risk factor of prostate cancer.

Lung Cancer

This cancer is mainly diagnosed in men 65 years and above, very rarely in younger men of 45 years of age.

Causes

When a tumor is formed in the lungs and grows uncontrollably.

  • Age is another cause-65 to 70 years.
  • Family history, if any immediate family had lung cancer, is also prone to get.
  • Smoking, is the main cause. Even passive smokers can get the disease. Heavy smokers and those who started smoking from a young age.
  • Exposure to asbestos( miners, mill workers) and other chemical(niclel, chromium, arsenic, dieselexhaust and air pollution)..
  • Exposure to a colourless, scent-less radioactive gas(Radon), found in houses.

Treatment

Surgery Wedge resection: removal of a small section of the lung.

Segmental resection: removal of a large portion of the lung.

Lobectomy: removing of the entire lobe of one lung.

Pnemonectomy: remove the entire lung.

Prevention

In spite of a number of campaigns and public awareness programmes are taken up still people take the risk of smoking extensively.

  • Those who quit smoking for 15 years, 80% to 90% of risk is reduced to get lung cancer. Medication and counseling will help to quit smoking and determination.
  •  Eating plenty of fruit, speaking to a health care provider, before changing the diet.
  • Regular exercise.
  • Certain medication 
  • But still none have been proven to stop from being effected.

Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal Cancer, is the third most common cancer in men worldwide and the second largest deaths that occur due to cancer is this disease. This is also the cause of death in gastrointestinal cancer. 90% of the people suffering with this disease are above 60 years of age. This cancer develops in the colon or rectum.

Causes for Colorectal Cancer

  1. Age is a common factor.
  2. Modern diet
  3. Smoking
  4. No physical exercise
  5. Obesity.

Symptoms

  1. Loss of appetite
  2.  Vomiting
  3. Changes in bowels habits.
  4. Bright or dark blood in stools.
  5. Abdominal discomfort, pain, bloating.

If all this continues for then two weeks, a doctor must be consulted.

Conventional treatments

  • Surgery.
  • Radiotherapy.
  • Chemotherapy.

These treatments are administered alone or together. But there is no guarantee that it will be cured completely. So, new treatments have come up, like

  • Immunotherapy.
  • Targeted therapies.
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor(VEGF) Targeted Therapies.
  • Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) Targeted Therapies.

Prevention of Colorectal Cancers

  • Managing diet,decrease red and processed meat. Increase fiber- fruits, vegetables,whole grains.
  • Stay healthy & exercise.
  • Physical activity, reduce sitting and lying down frequently.
  • Reduce intake of alcohol or stop completely.
  • Quit smoking totally.

Bladder Cancer

Bladder Cancer is more common in men than in women, especially in older men, from the age of 55 to 73 years of age. Even now the reason is unknown why men are more prone to this disease than women.

Causes

  • Bladder Cancer develops, when a change takes place inside the DNA of certain cells, which grows uncontrollably and form tumors.
  • Smoking and usage of tobacco products.
  • Exposed to toxins- paint, metal, dyes, petroleum products and dangerous chemicals.

Symptoms

  1. Blood in urine, painful urination.
  2. Frequent urination
  3. Urinate a number of times at night.
  4. Feeling to urinate but do not pass.
  5. Lower back pain on one side of the body.

Treatment

  1. Surgery.
  2. Chemotherapy.
  3. Immunotherapy.
  4. Targeted therapy.
  5. Radiation therapy.

Melanoma ( Skin cancer)

Melanoma, is more common in men because they do not protect themselves from the sun, as women since they apply sunscreen lotions and make up. The age to get affected with this disease is from 50 to 80 years. Men also do not know much about skin cancer.

Causes

  • Men have thick skin with less fat, so more likely to be damaged by ultraviolet rays of the sun.
  • Men’s skin reacts more to UV rays.
  • Presence of more moles.
  • Brown birth mark-
  • Pale skin, that easily gets tanned.
  • Family history,
  • A previous organ transplant.

Symptoms

  1. Skin changes- anew spot or mole or existing  ones color, shape or size changes,
  2. A spot or sore- if becomes painful, itchy and soft or bleeds.
  3. A lump that looks shiny, smooth or pale.
  4. A flat red spot which is dry, rough or scaly.

Treatment

  • Surgery- lesion,  if melanoma covers a large area- skin grafting.
  • Radiation therapy.
  • Chemotherapy.
  • Immunotherapy.
  • Targeted therapy.

Prevention

  1. Put on a broad rimmed hat and sunglasses’
  2. Stay in the shade, avoiding sunburns..
  3. Wear long sleeved shirts and full pants when possible.
  4. When it is very hot, stay away from the sun.
  5. Apply sunscreen lotion.

The Rarest Cancer Among Men​

Unbelievable, but true. The rearest cancer in men is BREAST CANCER. It is a painless lump or there is a thickening in the breast tissue. There are changes in the skin covering the breast, like scaling, puckering, redness or dimpling. The nipple turns inward and the color also changes to red and scaling occurs. Sometimes it is common in older men.

 Treatment, is the breast tissue is removed. According to the situation Chemotherapy or Radiation therapy is recommended by the doctors.

Awareness of these five common cancers and other cancers which aged men are prone to is less. If diagnosed early and treated results would be better. Generally June month is assigned to spread the awareness of cancers among aged men.

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WHY SOME CANCERS COME BACK

Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body. When body’s normal control mechanism stops working Cancer develops. Old cells do not die but when they grow out of control and form new cells, a mass of tissue or tumor is formed, called cancer. Cancer are named after the place that they grow at, like Breast Cancer, Lung Cancer, Colorectal cancer and so on.

Though these cancers can be treated with advanced technologies through Surgery—where the tumor is directly removed; Chemotherapy-chemicals are used to kill the cancer cells; Radiation Therapy- X-rays are used to kill the cancer cells, cancer sometimes is not fully treated it comes back.

Reasons for Cancer to Come Back

Even after treatment some cancer cells may remain in the body. As time passes these cells multiply and grow in size and form cancer again. This can be identified through conducting tests again. When and where the cancer comes back depends on the type of cancer. It can come back after weeks, months or even after years of the original cancer was treated. Doctors also cannot predict if the cancer will recur.

Cancer Can Recur in The Following Ways

  • Local recurrence in the original cancer area.
  • Regional recurrence near the original cancer area.
  • Distant recurrence in another part of the body.

Recurrent Cancer: The recurrent cancer is known by the name, where it originally started even if it recurs in some other part of the body. For example, if breast cancer recurs in the liver, it is still called breast cancer and not liver cancer. Doctors call it metastatic breast cancer, means the cancer has spread to another part of the body.

Cancer Recurrence Symptoms

  1. bladder and bowel habits change.
  2. a sore that does not heal.
  3. unusual discharge or bleeding.
  4. lump in the breast or in any other part of the body.
  5. indigestion or difficulty in swallowing.
  6. wart or mole changes in it.
  7. continues cough.
  8. Tiredness.

Reducing the Risk of Cancer Recurrence

Regular exercise, weight to be maintained, reduce stress, healthy eating, consumption of alcohol should reduce, stop smoking, keep the doctor ie the oncologist about any changes in the body.

When cancers comes back it doesn’t mean that the treatment was wrong. Cancer cells are difficult to understand, some of them survive through strong therapies.

Tests conducted to find out cancer has recurred are imaging scans, lab tests, and biopsies. These tests help the doctor to identify if the cancer has recurred or it’s a new one, known as secondary cancer. Second cancers are not very common unlike the recurrence cancers.

Treatment

Cancers that recur do not respond to treatments that well like it had responded the first time. Treatment depends on the type of cancer, location and as to how much it has advanced.

If the cancer has recurred in the original area surgery or radiation is advised. If the cancer has spread to a distant place than chemotherapy, biological therapy or radiation is conducted.

Second cancer

A new cancer is a second cancer. Someone who already had cancer gets it. It is totally a new cancer completely different from the earlier one. A recurrence cancer is one when the first one comes back, even if it comes back in another area. Second cancers are also common.

Risk Factor of Second Cancer

The risk factor in second cancer is very high:

Inherited genes-Second cancer is passed from a parent to the child.

Cancer remains after treatment- sometimes very few cancer cells are left even after treatment.

Certain cancer treatments: sometimes chemotherapy and radiation treatment also can bring back the second cancer. This may be because of continuing to smoke, drinking alcohol, over-weight, eating unhealthy diet. This second cancer can be prevented if smoking is stopped, alcohol consumption is reduced, exercise regularly.

Cancer Recurrence Statistics

7% of the cancer patients fear that their might recur. So generally doctors do discuss and try to remove the fear through answering their direct questions or through a questionnaire.

Glioblastoma( brain and spinal cord), recurs in all the cancer patients even if they are treated.

Ovarian cancer, in 85% of the patients this cancer recurs.

Soft tissue sarcoma, in 50% it recurs. If diagnosed in the later stage recurrence is 100%.

Bladder cancer, in 50% of the patients the recurrence is there after cystectomy.

Pancreatic cancer, in spite of  chemotherapy 36% to 46% recurrence.

B-cell lymphoma, recurrence in 30% to 40% patients.

T-cell lymphoma, recurs in 75% of the patients.

Some cancers are treated in earlier stages, so the percentage of recurrence is less, for example kidney cancer, leukemia in children and so on.

Cancer Remission

Cancer remission means that the signs and symptoms of cancer have reduced. It can be partial or completely reduced. If it is complete remission then the signs and symptoms have totally disappeared. Doctors in such a situation say that the disease is fully cured. If the cancer comes back after remission then it is called recurrence.  When a person is in remission sometimes means there a little chance or no signs of cancer. But still it is better to see the doctor with regular appointments, to check that cancer does not develop again. To go into remission chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, hormone therapy, bone marrow therapy can also be done. So to keep the cancer away eating healthy, exercising, stop smoking, limit alcohol consumption joining a support group can help.

Survival of Cancer Recurrence

After being treated for cancer, 3% of these survivors develop a second cancer, different from the original one. These patients survive long because of advancements in treatment. Fear of recurrence in more in less educated, women, unmarried,  because of higher levels of depression and anxiety, mental and physical tiredness and because of quality of life is low and mainly because follow up treatment is not taken seriously. Generally breast cancer, colon cancer and melanoma come back. Many of them can survive for months or years with the right treatment,  for such patients it’s like diabetes or heart disease. Staying positive also helps for survival. Early detection and treated, survival chances are more. Counselling will also help to face the recurrence of cancer. Joining a support group or online group to share and exchange feelings and experiences with others who are survivors helps to cope better with the disease.