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Here’s all you need to know about Cancer including its types, causes, symptoms, stages and treatment.

The cell is body’s basic building block. Cancer is a disease of the cells and occurs when abnormal cells grow in an uncontrolled way. These abnormal cells can damage or invade the surrounding tissues, or spread to other parts of the body and grow there. Most cancers start in a particular organ; this is called the primary site or primary tumour. Tumours can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer).

What is Benign tumor?

Benign tumours do not spread outside their normal boundary to other parts of the body. Some benign tumours are precancerous and may progress to cancer if left untreated. However, if a benign tumour continues to grow at the original site, it can cause a problem by pressing on nearby organs.

What is Malignant tumor?

A malignant tumour is made up of cancer cells. When it first develops, this malignant tumour may be confined to its original site. This is known as a cancer in situ (or carcinoma in situ). If these cells are not treated, they may spread beyond their normal boundaries through path of least resistance into the surrounding tissues. It can also spread by lymph or blood stream to other organs this is called metastasis.

Probable Causes of Cancer

For most cancers the causes are not fully understood. However, some factors place individuals at a greater risk for cancer are well-recognized. Examples include:

  • Tobacco smoking
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Diet - for example, high intake of particular foods (such as processed meat and foods that have high salt content and fats) overweight and obesity UV radiation
  • Infections –e.g. some types of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection can be associated with cervical and other cancers, and chronic hepatitis B or C infection can be associated with liver cancer
  • Occupational exposure to agents, including chemicals, dusts and industrial processes
  • Family history and genetic susceptibility - some genes that can predispose a person to cancer can be passed on from parent to child
How does cancer spread?

When cancer cells break away from a tumor, they can travel to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or the lymph system. (Lymph vessels are much like blood vessels, except they carry a clear fluid and immune system cells.)

Various types of Cancer basis organs

Thyroid Cancer

The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland at the base of the throat, near the windpipe which produces hormones that help control heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and weight.

  • There are four types of thyroid cancer - papillary, follicular, medullary and anaplastic thyroid cancer.
  • Papillary is the most common while anaplastic is the most aggressive and difficult to cure. Other types of thyroid cancers are usually curable if detected early.
  • Symptoms
    • Neck or facial pain
    • Shortness of breath
    • Difficulty in swallowing
    • Hoarseness or voice change

Brain Tumor

Brain cancer or tumours is an abnormal growth of cells in the brain.

Malignant tumours can grow and spread aggressively to distant parts of the body as well.

Benign tumours are less harmful as compared to malignant ones as they don’t spread to nearby tissues but a benign tumour can cause problems in the brain by pressing on a nearby tissue.

Brain tumours that originate in brain cells are called primary brain tumours. Metastatic or secondary brain tumours spread to the brain from other tumours. Symptoms of a brain tumour are usually related to its location rather than its size and develops when the tumour destroys or compresses normal brain tissue.

So either the tissues around the tumour swell or the tumour interferes with the normal flow of fluid around the brain and the spinal cord.


  • Headache
  • Seizures
  • Speech problems
  • Imbalance or difficulty in walking
  • Impaired vision or a restricted visual field

Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer is established as one of the nation’s most formidable enemies in the healthcare landscape. It is one of the most common cancers amongst Indian women; every year as many as 100,000 women develop breast cancer in the country. This high incidence is poised to rise to an even more unmanageable number.

  • Regular breast self examination is a must
  • Symptoms:
    • Swelling in the armpit
    • A breast lump/thickening that feeds different
    • Bloody discharge from nipple
    • Change in the size, shape or appearance of the breast
    • Changes in the breast skin, such as dimpling
    • A newly inverted nipple
    • Peeling, scaling or flaking of the area around the nipple or breast skin

Head & Neck Cancer

This makes up almost 30% of cancers among Indians. Causes are chewing tobacco, betel nut, paan, smoking cigarettes and consuming excessive alcohol. Another risk factor is an infection with the HPV which increases the risk of throat cancer


  • A sore in the mouth that has not healed for more than 3 weeks
  • Persistent change of voice
  • Difficulty in chewing and swallowing
  • A lump in the neck
  • Bleeding, pain or numbness in the nose or mouth
  • Difficulty in the opening the mouth
  • Facial, neck or ear pain

Lung Cancer

Cancer in the lungs is common and people who smoke are at the highest risk of contracting lung cancer. The risk of lung cancer increases with the duration of smoking period and the number of cigarettes smoked.

  • If one quits this habit even after several years, one can significantly reduce the chances of developing lung cancer.
  • Risk factors include smoking, passive smoking, exposure to radon gas, asbestos and a family history of lung cancer. People with an increased risk of lung cancer should take annual CT scans to look for the disease.
  • Also, smokers of 55 years of age or older and even those who used to smoke earlier should check with their doctor about screening for lung cancer.
  • Symptoms:
    • A new cough that doesn’t go away
    • Changes in a chronic cough or ‘smoker cough’
    • Coughing blood, even small amounts
    • Shortness of breath
    • Chest pain
    • Wheezing
    • Hoarseness
    • Unexpected weight loss
    • Bone pain
    • Headache

Prostate Cancer

This is one of the most common types of cancers in men. It usually affects men in their 60s, but is now progressively found in men of a lower age group as well. The common problems arising in this gland include benign (non-cancerous) enlargement, or cancer of the prostate.

The risk factors include older age, family history and obesity.

Prostate cancer grows slowly and initially remains confined to the organ. However, in certain cases, the growth is rapid and can spread quickly to other organs.

Precaution: Early detection allows patients to choose from a range of treatment options, with excellent outcomes.


  • Trouble urinating
  • Decreased force in the stream of urine
  • Blood in semen
  • Discomfort in the pelvic area
  • Erectile dysfunction

Gynaecological Cancer

The common gynaecological cancers are cervical, ovarian, endometrial (uterine body) and cancer of the fallopian tube (occasionally) excluding carcinoma of the female breast. Gynaecological cancers have increased in India and by 2020, may constitute about 30% of the total cancers among women.


  • Irregular periods
  • Bleeding after sex
  • Bleeding after menopause
  • Persistent white/watery/foul discharge

Colorectal Cancer

This occurs when cells in the colon or rectum grow and multiply uncontrollably, damaging surrounding tissue and interfering with their normal function. It is one of the slowest growing cancers, with high chances of a complete cure, if detected early. The concern though lies in early detection as major symptoms do not occur initially.

Major risk factors include family history, chronic inflammatory bowel diseases, age above 50, obesity, physical inactivity, diet with less fibre, consumption of more red & processed meats, smoking and alcoholism.


  • Blood in stool
  • Irregular bowel habits
  • Pain in abdomen
  • Anaemia due to blood loss
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Decreased appetite or weight loss

Liver Cancer

The liver is one of the vital organs which filters the blood coming from the digestive tract, before circulating it to the rest of the body. It can be affected either by primary liver cancer, which arises in the liver, or secondary or metastatic cancer, which originates elsewhere in the body.

Primary liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma) tends to occur when the liver is damaged in the form of ‘Cirrhosis’ (a scarring condition of the liver), certain birth defects, alcohol abuse, chronic infection with diseases such as hepatitis B and C, hemochromatosis, obesity and fatty liver disease amongst others.


  • A hard lump on the right side just below the rib cage
  • Swollen abdomen and discomfort in the upper abdomen (right die)
  • Pain near the right shoulder blade or in the back
  • Jaundice
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Unusual tiredness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weight loss for no known reason

Leukemia Cancer

Individuals who have had some types of radiation or chemotherapy for treating other cancers, or those with certain genetic disorders, or exposure to chemicals like benzene or have family history are often at risk for leukaemia. This Cancer develops when the genetic material, or DNA, of a white blood cell is altered and the diseased cells called blasts eventually take over the bone marrow and do not allow normal RBC, WBC and platelet development.


  • Pallor
  • Lymph node swelling
  • Enlargement of liver
  • Spleen
  • Observing the complete blood count which would show abnormal levels of the blood cells
Disclaimer: Having any of these symptoms does not mean it is cancer, but if one or more of them is noticed for more than two weeks, then a doctor must be seen and an immediate health screening is a must.

Staging helps doctors plan treatment and predict outlook or prognosis.

The types of treatment that patient receives will depend on the type of cancer the patient has and how advanced it is. The main types of cancer treatment include:

  1. Surgery: Usually the “cancer affected “part is removed/ excised along with the neighbouring structures- if invaded.
  2. Radiation Therapy: This type of treatment uses high energy particles or waves to destroy or damage cancer cells. Radiation can be given alone or along with other treatments such as surgery / chemotherapy.
  3. Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is the usage of chemicals (medicines) to treat (by destroying or damaging) cancer cells.
  4. Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy is a form of treatment that uses the body’s immune system to fight the cancer which can be done in a few ways depending on the choice of your physician such as : stimulating your own immune cells to attack the cancer cells or giving you immune system components (man-made proteins).
  5. Hormone Therapy: Hormone therapy is using systemic (whole body) treatment for hormone receptive cancers such as breast cancer.
  6. Stem Cell Transplant: Stem cell transplant is a type of treatment used for certain kinds of cancer such as leukemia and multiple myeloma. Bone marrow contains the hematopoietic stem cells which are used in the treatment. Some people with cancer will have only one treatment but most people have a combination of treatments, such as surgery with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. When you need treatment for cancer, you have a lot to learn and think about. It is normal to feel overwhelmed and confused. But, talking with your doctor and learning about the types of treatment you may have can help you feel more in control.

Side effects of Cancer treatment:

  • Anemia
  • Appetite Loss
  • Bleeding and Bruising (Thrombocytopenia)
  • Constipation
  • Delirium
  • Diarrhea
  • Edema
  • Fatigue
  • Hair Loss (Alopecia)
  • Infection and Neutropenia
  • Lymphedema
  • Memory or Concentration Problems
  • Mouth and Throat Problems
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Nerve Problems (Peripheral Neuropathy) Pain
  • Sexual and Fertility Problems (Men & Women)
  • Skin and Nail Changes
  • Sleep Problems
  • Urinary and Bladder Problems

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