Last updated date: 29-May-2023
Originally Written in English
Various cancers affect different areas of the body. It can be the breast, lungs, prostate, blood cells (leukemia), and other vital body organs. Cancers affect people differently and have varying grades as well as cellular forms. They also react differently to treatment and involve different effective treatment plans.
The study of such various types of cancers is referred to as oncology. Generally, based on oncology definition, it’s the medical field that mainly specializes in the treatment and diagnosis of cancers. On the other hand, oncologists are medical professionals trained to manage cancer and give medical care to patients diagnosed with such conditions.
All You Need to Know About Cancer
Cancer refers to a group of disorders associated with the abnormal growth of cells. These cells usually have the possibility to multiply uncontrollably, invade, and spread to various sections of the body. With time, they destroy normal body tissues and triggers various associated symptoms and complications.
Typically, cancer is the second most leading cause of death across the universe. However, the rate of survival has gradually improved. This is all because of the enhancement in both cancer screening and treatment.
Depending on the affected organ and the type of cancer, there are various signs and symptoms that can indicate the disorder.
Some symptoms are similar to those of common medical conditions. However, you should visit an oncology clinic if they become persistent or trigger more concern. Considering cancer screening and testing is also an effective way of battling the disease.
Changes or mutations of the DNA inside cells cause cancer. Within a cell, DNA is packaged into several different genes. Each gene comprises a series of instructions instructing the cell on the functions to execute and how to grow and multiply. An error associated with the instructions may make the cell stops functioning normally and cause it to become cancerous.
Gene mutation can trigger cancer in various ways. First, it can instruct the healthy cells to grow and multiply rapidly, hence creating multiple new cells with similar mutations.
Gene mutation can also fail to prevent the uncontrolled growth of cells. Normal cells can distinguish when to quit developing in order to maintain an optimal number of every cell type. However, cancerous cells lose their controls that inform them when to stop growing (tumor suppressor genes). A tumor suppressor gene mutation causes cancer cells to proliferate and accumulate.
Lastly, gene mutation can cause mistakes during DNA error repairs. This means that the DNA errors cannot be corrected or repaired, causing the cells to be cancerous.
Oncology and Associated Cancer Risk Factors
Oncologists have a good understanding of the factors that can raise the risk of cancer. However, most cancers develop in people with no established risk factors. The following factors have been linked to an increased risk of malignancy in the body;
Cancer may evolve over a certain period of decades. As a result, the majority of cancer patients are 65 years old and above. Although it is more frequent in older people, cancer is not just a disease of adults. This means that it can as well be detected at any age.
A relatively small percentage of malignancies occur as a result of a hereditary condition. For instance, if cancer runs in your family, it's likely that genes are passed on from generation to generation. You could be a suitable candidate for genetic screening to determine if you have hereditary genes that raise the chance of developing those cancers. You should, however, note that having an inheritable gene mutation does not guarantee that you will develop cancer.
Some lifestyle options have been linked to an increased risk of tumor growth. These lifestyle factors include;
- Consuming more than one alcoholic drink per day, especially in women of all age brackets and men over the age of 65 or two beverages per day in men aging 65 years and younger.
- Prolonged sun exposure or regular blistering sunburns
- Obesity or being too fat
- Engaging unprotected sexual intercourse
Certain chronic medical conditions, including ulcerative colitis, could allegedly increase the possibility of acquiring some types of cancers. If you have such health conditions, then ensure that you talk to your primary care provider.
The surrounding environment might contain hazardous chemicals that raise the risk of developing cancer. Despite not being a smoker, you are likely to breathe in secondhand smoke. This is especially if you visit places where people smoke or stay with someone who frequently does. Asbestos and benzene, two common household and workplace chemicals, have both been linked to an elevated risk of cancer.
Oncology is a medical branch concerned with all forms of cancers that can develop in the body. As such, oncology also comprises subspecialties which includes the following;
- Medical oncology
Treats and manages cancer using hormonal therapy, biological therapies, chemotherapy, and other targeted treatment forms. It also involves coordinating cancer treatment regimens and closely observing the side effects among patients.
- Oncology radiation
Oncology radiation consists of external radiation therapy and internal radiation therapy. External radiation therapy kills cancerous cells and shrinks tumors by using high-energy photon rays. Internal radiation therapy is a standardized procedure that entails the ingestion, injection, or implantation of a radioactive component like radioactive iodine.
A cancer patient can have radiation therapy alone or in conjunction with other forms of cancer treatment. They can, for example, get radiation treatment to shrink cells or tumors prior to surgery to take it out. For more information and guidance, you can consult a specialist or seek help from the radiation oncology center.
- Surgical oncology
This subspecialty comprises surgeons who specialize in cancer and tumor through surgical intervention. Surgical oncology consultants require unique expertise to thrive in onco-surgery because malignancies are extremely vascular. This means that they are rich in the supply of blood.
- Pediatric oncology
Pediatric oncology refers to the study and control of cancer in children and adolescents. On the other hand, a pediatric oncology doctor is highly trained when it comes to both oncology and pediatrics. Cancers that occur in children are often distinct from the types of cancers that affect adults. As a result, pediatric oncologists focus on treating cancer in infants, young children, young adults, and teens.
Childhood and adult cancers are not similar. As a result, young cancer patients often undergo different forms of treatment procedures compared to adult patients. This is because the body of a child can tolerate chemotherapy, unlike the bodies of adults. Radiation treatment, on the other hand, is most likely to harm young children. Also, radiation therapy and chemotherapy can lead to long-term complications and side effects.
- Gynecological oncology
The gynecology oncology branch focuses on the types of cancers affecting the female reproductive system as well as the treatment. It involves diagnosing and treating cervix, uterus, ovary, vaginal, and vulva tumors.
The aspects of reproductive cancers are well understood by the oncology nursing society. Furthermore, they are trained to identify and treat cancer patients using various techniques such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery. So if you experience any gynecological problem, then you can seek consultation from the nearest oncology gynecologist.
- Oncology urology
A urologic oncology field specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of the male and female urinary tracts cancers. It also includes the male reproductive organs. The prostate, penis, and testicles are among these organs. On the other hand, an oncology urologist is trained to address these malignancies using various equipments.
- Oncology orthopedic
Oncology orthopedic is also known as musculoskeletal oncology. It is concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of noncancerous and malignant cancers and other abnormal musculoskeletal system lesions. On the other hand, orthopedic oncologists address conditions such as;
- Soft tissue sarcomas
- Primary bone malignancies
- Breast, prostate, or colon cancers that have metastasized to the bone
- Diseases and problems that develop due to cancer or the treatment-related side effects
Orthopedic oncology surgeon specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of cancerous musculoskeletal disorders. They use a range of techniques to extract tumors, rebuild bones if possible, and assist patients in regaining mobility and relieving symptoms.
Bone cancer and sarcoma can involve a range of treatments as well as therapies. The physicians can utilize targeted approaches to extract tumors or repair or correct the bone. Such treatment procedures and therapies are also intended to aid in the restoration of limb movement, the enhancement of functionality, and the management of pain.
- Oncology Hematology
Red blood cells, white blood cells, plasma, and platelets are the four elements of the blood that oxygenate the body organs and tissues. They also function as a barrier against pathogens and form clots to prevent excess bleeding. These elements, however, can also signify the existence of defects, which may result in blood cancers. This is where oncology hematology branch comes in.
Oncology and hematology is thus the medical discipline that combines hematology (the study of blood composition) with oncology (cancer study). This mode of medicine involves diagnosing and treating cancerous blood conditions and malignancies. It also manages and handles the effects of these diseases and the tumors that arise from them if present.
Oncology and hematology specialize in the following conditions:
- Hodgkin lymphoma
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
- Multiple myeloma
- Sickle cells disease
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Polycythemia vera
- Von Willebrand disease
- Blood clotting conditions
Who is an Oncologist?
An oncologist is a medical expert who specializes majorly in cancer diagnosis and treatment. If you are diagnosed with cancer, the oncologist will create a treatment and care plan depending on the comprehensive pathology records. Normally, this report indicates the kind of cancer you have, the extent of progression, how quickly it is expected to spread, and the affected areas of the body.
Most types of cancers are treatable through a combination of various therapies. As such, you are likely to see a number of different oncology nurses during the treatment course.
What is the role of the oncologist?
An oncologist manages a patient's care throughout the course of the disease. This starts with the diagnosis. Their role includes:
- Tests to establish whether a person has cancer are recommended.
- Explaining a cancer diagnosis, including the illness's kind and stage
- Discussing all treatment options and your treatment preference
- Providing compassionate and high-quality care
- Assisting you in dealing with the symptoms and side effects of cancer and its treatment
Surgery, cancer medicines, and/or radiation therapy may all be part of a person's cancer treatment strategy. This implies that various types of oncologists and other health care professionals collaborate to develop a patient's entire treatment strategy. This is referred to as a multidisciplinary team.
Generally, an oncologist and oncology nurse practitioner can address all kinds of cancers affecting both children and adults. Some of them specialize majorly in administering certain therapies, including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and performing surgeries. Others, on the other hand, focus on diagnosing, treating, and managing organ-specific malignancies such as;
- Breast cancer
- Bone cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Blood cancer
- Head and neck cancer
- Lung cancer
- Liver cancer
- Skin cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Testicular cancer
- Skin cancer
Oncology Multidisciplinary Staff
The extensive cancer care consists of a multidisciplinary staff such as;
- Medical oncologist: This is a unit coordinator in charge of diagnosis, development of effective treatment plans, managing cancer, and cancer-associated issues management. They are also responsible for checkups and follow-ups.
- Radiation oncologist: Responsible for supervising and managing the radiation therapy. Radiation therapy is a form of malignancy treatment that involves the use of high-energy beams to destroy cancerous cells.
- Surgical oncologist: This is a surgeon who treats cancer by performing a surgical procedure to take out the tumors or cancerous growths.
- Pathologists: These are the medical specialist who specializes on the examination of extracted or biopsied tumor blood or tissues samples using a microscope. They also aid in the detection of cancer or malignant growth. Pathologists generally play a critical role since they develop the treatment plan based on the reports.
- Radiologist: This is an oncology radiologist or cancer specialist responsible for cancer diagnosis using various imaging methods. Examples of imaging techniques include MRI, CT scan, x-ray, PET scan, and ultrasound, among others.
- Specialized physicians: This comprises a team of technical experts who focus on the involved or affected organ system. For instance, patients with liver cancer require the expertise and the services of a gastrointestinologist. On the other hand, patients with lung cancer require the services of a Chest physician. A neurologist is also needed for a brain cancer patient's care team.
- Cosmetic or reconstructive surgeon: In certain cases, reconstruction or correction of the affected organ may be necessary after surgery. A good example is in the case of breast cancer patients. The surgeons can assist in reconstructing the extracted or missing breast and nipple with tissues from other body areas.
- Oncology nurse: Provides daily care for cancer patients while still in the medical facility. The oncology nurse is highly trained to manage and give comprehensive care according to every patient’s needs.
- Doctor’s assistant: Assist in diagnosing and treating cancer while under the doctor’s direct supervision.
- Occupational and physical therapists: These therapists specialize in assisting people who might be physically weak or disabled as a result of therapy. For instance, patients with bone cancer who require extraction of the damaged part need physical therapy assistance.
- Social workers: They play a crucial role in assisting cancer patients in finding their way around the healthcare facility. They also help them cope and adjust to cancer diagnosis, including the emotional and economic burden associated with treatment.
- Anesthetist: This is a specialized expert when it comes to managing pain in the chronic and fatal cancer stage.
- Nutritional or diet advisor and therapist: Responsible for advising cancer patients on the proper healthy diet during the cancer treatment process and even afterward.
When to See a Hematologist and Oncologist?
While no two blood cancers are alike, every variant of the disease exhibits certain symptoms. Hence, considering the nearest hematology and oncology could be essential.
Some of the blood cancer symptoms can include the following;
- Appetite changes or persistent nausea
- Chills, fever, coughs, or chest pain
- Constant exhaustion, weakness, or night sweats
- Constant infectious diseases
- Difficulty to catch a breath
- Itchy skin patches or a rash
- Swollen but not painful lymph nodes in the neck, groin, and armpits
If you experience any of these symptoms, you can consider consulting a hematology oncology specialist near you. This will ensure early diagnosis and preventing the condition from advancing further.
For early diagnosis and treatment, you can always seek help from the near oncology doctors. Generally, oncologist can opt for one or more of the following diagnostic approaches to identify cancer;
- Physical examination: The physician can look around the body for lumps that could be a sign of tumors. Also, when performing a physical exam, he or she can check for anomalies that may signify the existence of cancer. These abnormalities can include variations of skin color or organ enlargement.
- Lab tests: Various types of lab tests, including blood and urine tests, enable the oncologist to determine anomalies that occur as a result of cancer. A standard blood test is known as a complete blood count. It can show an abnormal number or form of white blood cells in people with leukemia.
- Imaging tests: The oncologist can use various imaging scans to assess the bones as well as internal body organs. A computerized tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), bone scan, positron emission tomography (PET) scan, X-ray, and ultrasound are some of the imaging methods used to diagnose cancer.
- Biopsy: This involves obtaining cancerous or suspicious cell samples for further laboratory examination. A sample can be collected in a variety of ways. The type and location of the cancer determine the biopsy technique that is best for you. For certain cases, a biopsy is the best way to determine the presence of cancer.
Apart from cancer diagnosis, oncology is also beneficial in other ways, including;
- Informing you of the diagnosis and the stage of the cancer
- Giving you personal quality care
- Informing you about all the treatment options and the suitable choices
- Helping you manage cancer symptoms as well as the side effects of cancer and the treatment
Objectives of Cancer Treatment
There are several forms of cancer treatment available. A number of factors can determine the treatment choices. It can be the form and stage of the malignancy, your overall health, and the oncologist’s or your preference. You and the doctor or oncology pharmacist should weigh the advantages and disadvantages of every cancer therapy. This helps you decide on the most appropriate one.
Additionally, cancer treatment comprises various objectives, which include;
- The main treatment:
The initial objective of every primary cancer treatment is to eliminate the tumor cells from the body or destroy them. Any type of malignancy treatment can be used or considered the main treatment. However, the most known primary treatment for various forms of cancers is surgery. At times, the type of cancer you have could be too sensitive to chemotherapy or radiation therapy. In such situations, the oncologist can recommend one of the therapies as the primary treatment.
- Complete cure:
The aim of treatment is to completely cure cancer and enable you to lead a healthy and everyday life. However, this can or cannot be possible based on your particular situation.
- Adjuvant treatment:
The aim of adjuvant therapy is to destroy all cancerous cells that might linger following primary treatment. This is to minimize the possibility of cancer recurrence. Adjuvant therapy is useful for any form of cancer treatment. Chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and radiation therapy are examples of popular adjuvant therapies.
Palliative care can help alleviate treatment-related side effects as well as cancer-related signs and symptoms. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and hormonal therapy will be used to ease the signs and symptoms. Medications can also help with various problems, including pain, discomfort, and shortness of breath. At times, palliative treatment may be administered in conjunction with other therapies aimed at treating cancer.
Types of Cancer Treatment
Cancer treatment regimens differ based on the stage of cancer. There are genetic interventions that seek to even remove the affected organ based on a genetic predisposition.
For instance, Angelina Jolie removed her breast (mastectomy) because her genetic analysis revealed the presence of BRCA I and BRCA II in addition to her mother having had breast cancer. These are breast cancer genes that are implicated in breast cancer cases. The best oncologists in the world can offer several types of treatment for cancer whether benign or malignant.
The common forms of cancer treatment include;
This works by utilizing pharmacological medications to kill cancer cells. But it kills some healthy cells in the process as well. The medications are called anti-cancer medications or chemotherapeutic drugs. Several of these drugs act by affecting the DNA and the many types are all grouped into the following;
- Alkylating antineoplastic agent
- Antimicrotubular agents
- Cytotoxic antibiotics
- Topoisomerase inhibitors
The use of hormones reduces or prevents the development of hormone-sensitive organs such as breasts, ovaries, and prostate cancers. Common side effects in people using hormones to manage their cancer are as follows, so do not be alarmed. Just inform your doctor.
- Bone pains
- Hot flushes
- Joint pain stiffness
- Low vaginal lubrication
- Mood changes
- Muscle pain
- Night sweats
- Reduced sex drive
Immunotherapy fortifies the immune system to combat cancer cells. These drugs work by triggering the immune system to respond stronger to cancerous tissues. So, it’s a form of amplification or suppression of your immunity in a way to affects cancer cells. Types of immunotherapy regimen include;
- Immune checkpoint inhibitors
- Immune system modulators
- Monoclonal antibodies
- T-cell transfer therapy
- Treatment vaccines
Radiation uses high doses of X-rays to destroy and shrink cancer cells. Once the cancer cells are destroyed at the level of the DNA, cell division ceases, and the cancerous cells die. There are several types of radiation therapy used to treat cancer:
- Internal radiation therapy
- External beam radiation therapy
Stem Cell Transplantation:
Medical interventions involving stem cells still have a cloud of controversy hanging over them worldwide. Stem cell transplants are used in the treatment of cancer. These progenitor cells acts by regenerating the particular cell type in the tissue they are introduced to.
This is the physical removal of the organ harboring the cancer cells. Often the lymph nodes and surrounding tissues are removed alongside the organ, as well. Most times this is enough to get rid of cancer and live a healthy life afterward. But some cases recur even after a radical removal of the affected organ.
Oncology treatments abroad
Oncology treatments abroad are similar to other forms of management in other countries. At least theoretically, they all follow the same protocol. Cancer is treated according to the above forms outlined. There are times when some of the above regimens are combined for better effect. Other times a single type of cancer treatment is enough.
People travel to Europe and Asia to have a chance of defeating cancer. It is that fighting chance that no one can take away from you. Cancer treatment usually comes with side effects such as hair loss and nausea among other side effects, so be mentally prepared.
A family can be torn apart by many events. But cancer can be particularly devastating to a family. It may come suddenly or be a looming cloud and inevitability. This is why getting adequate and prompt cancer treatment is vital. If cancer is discovered early, and if its prognosis is very positive, you can be rid of localized cancer discovered before it spreads to other organs.
Chadwick Boseman, who brought the character of Black Panther to life, died at 43 from stage 4 – colon cancer. It is quite sad that such a vibrant man lost his valuable and influential life. This is an aspect of treating cancer that is scary. The fact that despite the extensive drug management, he still died which shows cancer is malicious.
Oncological Measures of Preventing Cancer
Basically, there are no specific ways of preventing cancers or tumor growth. However, the oncologists and other professional specialists have identified various measures that can reduce the risks of cancer. They include the following;
- Quit smoking: If you are a regular smoker, then you can consider quitting as soon as you can. On the other hand, do not start smoking if you have never smoked before. Generally, smoking has been associated with a variety of cancers, including lung cancer. Therefore, quitting now can lower the chances of developing cancer in the future.
- Avoid overexposure to the sun: The sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays tend to increase the chance of developing skin cancer. Putting on the protective outfit, staying in the shade, and applying sunscreen can help reduce sun damage.
- Maintain a balanced diet: Always opt for a vegetable and fruit-rich diet. You can choose whole grains as well as lean protein sources.
- Keep a normal healthy weight: A person who is obese or overweight has increased your chances of developing cancer. It’s thus essential to work to attain and sustain a stable weight by adopting a healthy diet and through daily exercise.
- Make appointments for cancer screenings: One of the most effective ways of preventing cancer is through screening examination. Consult your doctor on the correct forms of cancer screening exams to undergo depending on the associated risk factors.
- Engage in regular exercise at least three times a week: Routine physical activities have been found to a reduced risk of developing cancer. Target at least 30 minutes of physical exercise for most days per week. In case you have not been exercising consistently, you can begin slowly and gradually increase your time to 30 minutes or even more.
- Inquire with the physician about the available immunizations: Some types of viruses tend to raise the chances of developing cancer. Luckily, immunizations can aid in the prevention of such viruses as hepatitis B, which elevates the possibility of liver cancer. Immunization against human papillomavirus (HPV), which increases the chances of cervical cancer, among others, is also vital. Consult your doctor or visit an oncology center to see if you can be immunized against these viruses.
When to see an oncologist?
A GP may refer a patient to an oncologist if they have been diagnosed with cancer or are suspected of having cancer. A pathologist will take a biopsy (tissue sample) and study it. If cancer is discovered, a battery of diagnostic tests and scans may be performed to identify the extent of the tumour and whether it has spread. Oncologists collaborate to suggest a treatment plan for particular patients.
At any point, patients can seek a second opinion from other doctors or medical teams. Patients can request that their medical history be given to the doctor offering the second opinion if their GP or specialist refers them to another specialist.
It is sometimes beneficial to go abroad to receive oncology treatments. The state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment makes it easy to detect early developing cancer. The expertise of the specialist helps manage cancer better than many. Cancer is a life-threatening disease. The treatments are still not always globally accessible. Not all countries have sound oncological interventions. But these treatments and investigations were developed and tested abroad. This is probably why cancer treatment is often better done abroad.