Cancer is a chronic disease characterized by intense agony, weakness of the immune system and high chances of comorbidity ( associated illnesses). As we move on towards modernizing almost everything in life, the incidence rate of cancer is also growing. The mortality rate (death rate) is even more when the stage of cancer is advanced, hence it is known as one of the dangerous terminal illnesses. According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR),  1300 Indians die every day due to different types of cancers. Between the years 2012- 2014, the mortality rate due to cancer was approximately increased by 6%.  In the year 2013, there were 465,169 deaths out of 3,016,628 patients. Despite the discovery of many anticancer drugs, the new varieties of cancers are being added to the list each year. Earlier, cancer was a self-limiting condition that used to attack very organs but now, the scenario has changed drastically because, almost  every organ in our body is vulnerable to one or other form of cancer.


Cancer and the lifestyle

In olden days, people used to lead an active and healthy lifestyle as there was no provision for the luxury. But, the sedentary lifestyle of the modern age has increased the incidence of cancer worldwide. As the years passed. . “Cancer is a group of diseases characterized by a deliberate, purposeless, abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells that have no physiological importance. In other words, cells formed will harm the normal cells of the body instead of helping the body”. The possible signs and symptoms of cancer are, formation of palpable(can feel by touch) mass or lump, excessive and unexplained abnormal bleeding, prolonged cough, a drastic loss of weight, weakness, anemia, abrupt change in the urinary and bowel pattern along with frequent infections.


Nature of cancer cells

Malignant cells are otherwise called cancer cells, have the ability to easily amalgamate with the normal cells. The abnormal cells gain access to every corner of the body through circulating blood and lymph. The process of transmission of cancer cells through blood and lymph is known as metastasis. Metastasis is the most dangerous state of the illness because, in a quick time, the cancer cells can spread throughout the body which can worsen the condition and  person feels difficult to survive.  The abnormal metastatic cells start utilizing the nutrients available for the normal body cells resulting in starvation and death of healthy body cells. This can cause weakness,  anemia, unexplained weight-loss and gradual deterioration of functional abilities of a person. Depending upon the sites affected by cancer cells, symptoms begin.


Causes of cancer

Cancer is a multifactorial disease mainly caused by bad lifestyle, radiation exposure, occupational factors,  viral infections, diet, and genetic factors. However, some chronic viral infections, occupational factors, and some unknown factors can strike the individuals hard. The chart below displays the percentage distribution of causative factors of cancer


Mechanism of disease

The primary mechanism behind the cancer formation is the frequent cell division in an abnormal pattern. In the normal human body, growth and developmental processes are regulated by systematic and continuous cell growth, differentiation, and cell division, but in  a cancer patient, the cell division goes unregulated and uncontrolled resulting in a continuous, and prolonged multiplication of body cells. The multiplying cells doesn't serve any physiological significance to the normal body function. Formation of cancer cells is known as carcinogenesis. It is a process triggered by high-risk behaviors such as consumption of tobacco, alcoholism, drug abuse, excessive usage of spicy foods and processed drinks. It is also proved that chronic irritation of an area by ultraviolet source can induce cancer formation.


Types of cancer

Cancer is classified based on the mobility of the tumor cells. The tumors that doesn't move and are  fixed to a specified location is called a benign tumour. If the mass  is circulating throughout the body then it is known as a malignant tumour.  Benign tumors are hard masses formed in the stomach, brain, bones,  thyroid gland, etc. On the contrary, malignant tumours will circulate through the blood to reach the entire body very rapidly. Malignant tumors are very difficult to treat as they multiply and invade the surrounding normal tissues in a very short span. Some of the most common cancers are ;

  1. Bladder Cancer

  2. Breast Cancer

  3. Colorectal Cancer

  4. Oral and Oropharyngeal Cancer

  5. Pancreatic Cancer

  6. Prostate Cancer

  7. Thyroid Cancer

  8. Uterine Cancer

  9. Kidney Cancer

  10. Lung Cancer - Non-Small Cell

  11. Lymphoma - Non-Hodgkin

  12. Melanomas

Note; To learn more about the classification of cancers  visit 


Diagnosis (detection) and management

Early detection helps in cost reduction and proper risk management. In most cases, detecting the cancer during the 1st and 2nd stage that can save the patient's life. Early detection protocol includes recognizing the possible warning signs; bleeding, weight loss, weakness, hoarseness of voice and anaemia. To promote the early diagnosis, cancer hospitals and institutes are actively conducting mobile cancer screening camps all over the country. The most common screening tests for cancer include breast examination for breast cancer, oral assessment for mouth examination, blood tests to detect the presence of cancer cells, X-ray or  CT-scanning of whole or part of the body to observe mass formation, mammography or ultrasound scanning for breast cancer detection, cell studies of suspected body parts and pap smears for cervical cancer.



Treatment protocols vary according to the severity, stage of illness and the affected site. The main aim of the treatment is to either kill or block further growth and spread of cancerous cells across the body. The standard treatment protocol of cancer is divided into 4 types; and they are chemotherapy (drugs), radiotherapy (by strong radiation emitted by radioactive elements), surgery and psychological treatments to support the patient mentally. Recent studies found that cancer can be treated by immunotherapy, genetic therapy, and hormone therapy. Chemotherapy uses cytolytic agents (agents that kill tumor cells). There are many such drugs in the market and these are sold on prescription only. They enter the target location to interfere with the cellular metabolism of cancer cells which can ultimately suppress them. However, cancer cells are highly potent and resistant to many nominal drugs. In a radiotherapy case, patient is subjected to the exposure of radiation sources such as radio iodine. The emitting radiations reach deep inside the affected areas and kill the tumor cells however radiotherapy alone may not be very helpful hence, combination therapies are used where drugs, surgery and radiations are used together. Surgery is the last choice when other alternatives have been failed. 


Prevention and supportive therapies for cancer

Prevention is better than treatment and this proves to be most applicable in the case of cancer. Disciplined lifestyle in conjunction with the regular screening after the age of 40 years is the key to prevent and manage cancer.  Some practical tips that help in managing and preventing the cancer are as under

  1. Learn to manage stress through yoga, exercise therapies, relaxation techniques such as guided imagery, yoga and meditation. If the diagnosis is positive, a constant attempt to gain self-confidence is essential.

  2. Strictly say no to stimulants like caffeine, alcohol, and sugar.

  3. Exercising on a regular basis during and after cancer treatment is vital. Exercise boost metabolism and appetite, Regular exercise help in healthy weight management

  4. A healthy diet free from cholesterol, sugars, smoked meats and spicy diets can help to manage cancer. Eating foods with high fibre is a must. These include whole grains, beans, peas, lentils, nuts, and seeds.

  5. Limiting the exposure towards harsh environmental toxins, asbestos, allergens and some chemicals is mandatory.



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Cell cycle and cell division







Check your understanding

  1. Define cancer.

  2. What are the differences between malignant and benign tumors?

  3. Name some organs commonly affected by cancer in our body.

  4. What are some treatment options for cancers?

  5. Explain the most common signs of cancer.

  6. What is metastasis?

  7. Write the 5 warning signs of cancer.

  8. What are the causes of cancer?





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