Healthy cells present in our body divide and are replaced in a controlled manner. Cancer, on the other hand, is the uncontrolled multiplication of cells. These abnormal cells together form a mass known as tumours. Most of the cancers can form tumour cells however not all tumours are cancerous in nature. The tumours which are “Non-Cancerous or Benign” are not harmful, do not form other tumours and do not spread to the other parts of the body. “Cancerous or Malignant tumours” however, divide abnormally, even overtake the normal healthy cells, take out the nutrients from the other body tissues, and can even hinder the normal functioning of the body and organs.
Globally, cancer is the second leading cause of death. In 2018, about 9.6 million people died from various cancers. It is estimated that 1 out of 6 deaths around the globe are due to cancer. Out of which 70% of deaths due to cancer are in low or middle-income countries.
Causes of Cancer
Cancer arises when the normal cells become tumour cells via various multistage processes. The causes of cancer include genetic factors along with the following three external factors
- Chemical Carcinogens– Tobacco, smoke and other components of tobacco, asbestos, arsenic (contaminant present in water) and aflatoxins (a food contaminant).
- Physical Carcinogens- UV rays and other ionizing radiations.
- Biological Carcinogens- Infections caused by microbes (mainly pathogens) such as bacteria, viruses and parasites.
Common Types of Cancers
Cancer is such a human ailment that has been with us for centuries but it was until the last century that major breakthroughs and researchers were done in the field of cancer diagnosis, treatment and prevention. Cancer is a painful disease, but the current medical advancement has made it possible for cancer to be diagnosed at the early stages and patients can get treated and live longer.
The Major Types of Cancer are
- Carcinoma- It is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in people. Carcinoma is cancer that originates in the skin, breast, lungs, pancreas and other glands.
- Leukaemia- It is a cancer of the blood. Leukaemia does not form solid tumours.
- Lymphoma- It is a cancer of the lymphocytes.
- Melanoma- It is the type of cancer that originates from the cells of the skin which produce the pigment of the skin.
- Sarcoma- It is the uncommon type of cancer that originates in the blood vessels, muscle, bone, fat or in connective tissues present in the body.
These types of cancers consist of more than 200 types of various cancers that affect people around the world.
The most common types of cancer are as follows
Common types of Cancer
The most common types of cancer around the globe are
- Breast cancer (2.09 million cases)
- Lung cancer (2.09 million cases)
- Colorectal cancer (1.08 million cases)
- Prostate cancer (1.28 million cases)
- Skin cancer i.e. non-melanoma cancer (1.04 million cases)
- Stomach cancer (1.03 million cases)
The common types of cancer that caused the most deaths in 2018 are
- Lung cancer (1.76 million deaths)
- Colorectal cancer (862000 deaths)
- Stomach cancer (783000 deaths)
- Liver cancer (782000 deaths)
- Breast cancer (627000 deaths)
Most Common Types of Cancer in Pakistan
Breast Cancer is one of the most common type of cancer around the globe and even in Pakistan. It affects females more and is rare in men. Nearly 23% of cancer diagnosed worldwide is breast cancer and as per WHO stats, each year around 1.2 million people are diagnosed of having breast cancer and the prevalence rate of breast cancer is 2.5% high in Pakistan. According to the reports of the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital, the prevalence rate of breast cancer is 21.5% and is 45.5% is among females. Every year 83 000 cases of breast cancer are reported in Pakistan and 40,000 women die due to this deadly disease.
Breast cancer typically affects the breast tissues. Abnormal growth of the cells in breast tissues causes cancer. Cancer can originate in the milk ducts (in the inner lining) or in the lobules (that carry milk towards the nipples). Breast cancer can be either malignant or non-malignant. Malignant tumours spread to the other parts of the body while non-malignant tumours don’t.
It is the second most common cancer and is the leading cancer that causes death around the globe. When the cells inside the lungs grow abnormally, it causes lung cancer. This abnormal growth of cells blocks the airways of the lungs and makes breathing difficult. These abnormal cells can divide and form tumours. This abnormal growth of cells can occur in one lung or both. If you want to decrease the risk of cancer then avoid smoking or vaping as it is the leading and common cause of lung cancer.
Colorectal Cancer is the third most common cancer around the globe and even in Pakistan. This cancer normally originates on the inside of a layer of the colon and rectum as a non-cancerous tumour and later becomes cancerous. It is the 3rd most common cancer diagnosed among males.
Oral Cavity Cancer
Oral Cavity carcinoma or oral cavity cancer is one of the leading cancers in Pakistan. It includes the cancer of the tongue, lips, floor of the mouth, buccal mucosa, hard palate, upper and lower gingiva.
It is also known as hepatic cancer and is caused by the growth of abnormal cells in the liver. Causes of liver cancer are consuming alcohol, infections, damaged liver, certain heredity diseases, cirrhosis and chronic hepatitis B and C.
It is slow-growing cancer but common cancer in Pakistan. In Pakistan, it is mostly diagnosed in men over 50 years of age. It is the second most common death-causing cancer among males. The main cause of prostate cancer is not known but the mutations in the abnormal cells of the prostate gland lead to cancer where abnormal cells divide rapidly and normal cells die due to insufficient nutrients.
About 4.9% of people in Pakistan suffer from skin cancer. It is a melanoma cancer i.e. it originates in the cells that make the pigment (melanin). Melanoma cancer even though is common cancer on the skin, but can also form in the eye and in the other pigmented tissues.
Other common types of cancer in Pakistan are Colon and rectal cancer, Leukemia, Bladder cancer, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, kidney cancer, Thyroid cancer and Pancreatic cancer.
Treatment of Cancer
Treatment of cancer depends on the type of cancer, its stage, the extent it is spread, the organs involved in it and the overall health of an individual. However, the common treatments of cancer are
- Chemotherapy- High potency medicines to kill the cancerous cells
- Radiations– Use of focused X-rays to shrink the tumour cells
- Surgical Procedures– To surgically remove the cancerous tissue
- Blood Product Transfusion
- Bone Marrow Transplantation
- Palliation- A treatment that is offered to the patients when the cancer is incurable. It includes surgery, medications, nutritional support (such as enriched feeding tubes or liquids), pain treatment, spiritual and then family support
- Other advanced medical treatments include Hormonal Therapy, Immunotherapy (monoclonal antibody), gene therapy etc.
Early diagnosis of cancer can be helpful in treating cancer and living a long healthy life. Even half of the cancers can be prevented. Here are a few tips to reduce your risk of getting cancer.
- Eat a healthy nutritious diet, rich in nuts, fruits and vegetables. Avoid eating processed foods and limit the use of animal and saturated fats.
- Engage yourself in physical activity and exercise daily.
- Maintain a healthy body weight.
- Avoid smoking as it is the leading cause of lung cancer.
- Follow guidelines to avoid exposure to any hazardous material if your job is related to chemicals.
- Avoid excessive exposure to the sun especially during peak sun hours (10 am to 4 pm).
- Get yourself checked if there is a risk of cancer due to family history with this disease (genetic or inherited component for the disease)
Adopt a healthy lifestyle. Early diagnosis of the disease can lead to a higher recovery rate, so don’t forget to visit the doctor in case of any ailment.