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Cancer, also referred to as a malignant tumor, refers to a group of diseases that are characterized by uncontrolled growth of cells. Some tumors have the ability to move from the primary site of development to affect other parts of the body (Cassileth 2004). The cells of the body that are cancerous determine the classification of cancer. The most common examples of cancers include lung cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, skin cancer, brain cancer, colon cancer, and lymphoma, among others (Cassileth 2004).
The symptoms of the disease vary greatly, depending on the size of the tumor, location of the tumor, and the manner in which the tumor spreads. Treatment mainly involves chemotherapy, surgery, use of radiation, immunotherapy, hormone therapy, gene therapy, and the use of immune system cells that are cancer-specific (Hanahan & Weinberg 2011). This essay discusses cancer in detail by addressing the disease history, impact of the disease on human lives, and the scientific efforts to deal with the disease.
History of the Disease
Cancer has been affecting humans and animals through history. Although it was not earlier on referred to as cancer, many people, particularly scientists and medics, had written about the syndrome. The presence of cancer signs in human mummies and some fossilized bone tumors in Egypt serves as evidence to confirm the occurrence of cancer in the early days. The first-time cancer case was described in the year 3000BC in Egypt, although the actual word cancer was not used by then (Mukherjee 2010). This description of cancer is in the book called “Edwin Smith Papyrus”, which is a copy of the oldest textbook of Egypt referred to as “Trauma Surgery”. However, the condition was described as having no treatment (Mukherjee 2010).
The name of the disease was founded by Hippocrates, a Greek Physician. Tumors that would cause ulcers were termed as carcinoma, while those that did not form ulcers were termed as carcinos. These words mean crab in Greek. They were probably used owing to the spreading projections that are finger-like, which mimic the shape of a crab. Later, Celsus, a Roman physician, translated it into cancer (crab in Latin) (Mukherjee 2010). Another Greek physician, Galen, described the tumors as oncos. Although this term is not used often, it is used to describe the specialists in cancer, the oncologists (Kardinal & Yarbo 1979).
Scientists had developed a better understanding of the syndrome by the 15th century. The foundation of the study of modern day cancer dates back to 1761, when Giovanni Morgagni performed autopsy procedures to establish the relationship between the illness of the patient and the findings after death. Later, John Hunter, a Scottish surgeon, suggested that certain cancers could be cured through operations.
He also described the conditions in which surgeons could choose to operate or not (Mukherjee 2010). The development of anesthesia in the 16th century allowed surgery to be used widely in the treatment of cancer. The development of the microscope and complex technology in the 19th century resulted in scientific oncology. Tissues can now be well studied, precise and accurate diagnosis can be made, and effective medical procedures can be applied to manage the disease (Kardinal & Yarbo 1979).
Impact and Danger of Cancer on Humanity
Cancer has negative effects on the human body and the society in general. On the body, the effects depend on the severity of the cancer and the site affected; these effects can be local or systemic. Local effects depend largely on the affected site. For instance, lung cancer may cause bronchial obstruction, colorectal cancer may block the bowel, and breast cancer may lead to breast deformation, while brain cancer may result in madness. Systemic effects include loss of weight, fatigue, skin changes, and fever (Hanahan & Weinberg 2011).
Cancer has devastating effects to the society in general. The notion that cancer is usually a deadly disease results in constant fear, psychological trauma, and the associated stigma. A factor that has contributed to the stigmatization of cancerous patients is the “just-world hypothesis”. According to this phrase, the world is considered just; therefore, any devastating phenomenon like cancer can only happen due to evil actions or as a punishment for certain wrong actions or choices one made. As a result, cancer patients are discriminated, while a majority decides to suffer in silence, until the situation goes out of hand (Cakir, Adamson & Cingi 2012).
Cancer also results in financial problems, as the available effective treatment methods are expensive. The affected individuals and families spend lots of money on the treatment of the disease. The productivity of the affected individual also drops, with some losing their jobs or those in the school going age dropping out of school. The affected individuals also become unhealthy occasionally, as they become immune-compromised. The patients generally lead a poor life, with some having suicidal thoughts. Their lifespan is also reduced, with most affected persons dying at an early age (Cakir, Adamson & Cingi 2012).
Efforts by Researchers to Fight the Disease
Since the discovery of the microscope and other modern technology, scientific oncology has taken the center stage with the aim of developing a better understanding of the condition and developing the best possible approaches to manage the condition. The development of histological studies, where biopsies and autopsies can be precisely studied, has contributed to the improved diagnosis of the condition (Hanahan & Weinberg 2011).
Through research, hormone and other immunochemical studies have been developed to aid in easy and convenient diagnosis of the disease condition. The development of complex machinery, such as CT scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and other devices has made it possible to perform the developmental stages of the disease without the need for body invasion. Accurate diagnosis is critical to the effective management of the condition (Cassileth 2004).
The most promising efforts of scientists are attributed to the improved management of the disease condition. Initially, surgery was the only procedure used to control the disease. However, more complex, but effective management strategies have been developed through research. They include the use of radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, gene therapy, hormone therapy, and the recent discovery of the use of immune system cells that are cancer-specific.
Basically, research on cancer focuses on the particular agents or factors that result in the observed genetic changes that eventually translate into cancer. It also focuses on the actual nature of the resulting genetic damage and the actual genes that are affected, as well as the effects of these genetic changes to the human body (Cassileth 2004). Findings from such studies are of great value in the efforts to treat the condition.
Cancer is a devastating disease that has affected humanity throughout history. The condition ought to be effectively managed owing to its fatal health effects on the human body, negative financial and social effects, and psychological effects on the affected individual and the entire family. Finding a lasting solution to this problem will largely depend on the nature of research and the efforts employed by scientific oncologists in cancer research. Therefore, more professional research focusing on cancer management is of essence in managing the condition effectively.
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Cakir, BO, Adamson, P & Cingi, C 2012, ‘Epidemiology and economic burden of nonmelanoma skin cancer’, Facial plastic surgery clinics of North America, vol. 20, no.4, pp. 419-22.
Cassileth, BR & Deng G 2004, ‘Complementary and alternative therapies for cancer’, Oncologist, vol. 9, no.1, pp. 80-89.
Hanahan, D & Weinberg, R 2011, ‘Hallmarks of cancer: The next generation’, Cell, vol. 144, no. 5, pp. 646-74.
Kardinal, C & Yarbo, J 1979, ‘A conceptual history of cancer’, Semin Oncol, vol. 6, pp. 396-408.
Mukherjee, S 2010, The emperor of all maladies: A bibliography of cancer, Scribner, New York, NY.