If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with cancer, you know it can be overwhelming. You may also be receiving advice and confusing information. Let’s put a stop to all the noise and find out what cancer really is and what treatment options there are. After all, the more you know, the more confident you will be when it comes to talking with your doctor and making decisions. So what is cancer? The answer is in our cells, our body has billions of them that are constantly dying and regenerating.
Normally a cell divides and makes a perfect copy of itself using a genetic blueprint called DNA. This cell can divide in turn and so on, while old or damaged cells are ordered to die, making room for new, healthy cells. But every now and then a cell’s DNA map can get messed up. Sometimes the cause is an environmental or chemical carcinogen. You may also have a hereditary risk. Sometimes we don’t know the cause.
Healthy, normal cells are tightly controlled by the body. They listen for the signs of when to grow, divide, and die. Sometimes the cell map is damaged in such a way that they stop listening to the body and ignore its signals. And so this wayward cell keeps dividing and dividing until it forms a tumor. In some cases, the cancer stays still and is localized, in other cases. Cancer spreads, metastasizing. Metastatic tumors consume the body’s resources as they grow, destroying healthy tissues and organs as they progress.
And now that? One way to start coping with cancer is to educate yourself about your options. If caught early, many tumors can be removed with surgery. Radiation therapy is a treatment that tries to kill cancer cells by directing small doses of radiation to very precise areas. But sometimes the cancer spreads to far away tissues. In this case, doctors can use chemotherapy or chemo to attack rapidly dividing cancer cells. Unfortunately, this treatment also attacks other types of rapidly dividing cells, such as those in the hair and skin.
There is a promising new treatment called targeted therapy. uses drugs that precisely target the underlying DNA mutations that cause the tumor to grow. It can be more effective and less toxic than traditional treatments. To find out if targeted therapy may be an option for you. There are tests that identify changes in DNA that are only in the tumor. Thus, the treatment is tailored just for you. Specialized drugs are used to attack cancer cells with less effect on healthy cells.
You already know the basics of cancer and the most common treatment options. You are now more ready to talk to your doctor about your options.
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