What is Cancer? - Diagnosis and Treatment | Fortis Healthcare
Cancer- diagnosis and treatment
Oncology, literally translating to the ‘study of mass’, is the field of research associated with the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. A whopping 200 billion USD was spent on cancer research in 2022, and spending is projected to increase in the future . But what exactly is this money used for? What innovations have been made in what is arguably the most important field of medical research? First, it’s important to understand the cancer and how it’s diagnosed.
What is Cancer?
As cells in our body age and reach the end of their lifespan, they are usually destroyed and replaced by healthier, mostly similar cells. This enables our body to stay active and healthy. Sometimes, funnily enough, cells lose their ability to destroy themselves, and continue to use up resources. Such masses/lumps of tissue are called tumors. These cells are abnormal, and should not be multiplying. That being said, not all tumors are cancerous, and may be ‘benign’. Benign tumors can be harmful too, but they are not nearly as hazardous as cancerous tumors. A tumor is declared cancerous if it invades nearby tissues and spreads to other parts of the body. Cancerous tumors are rather obstinate, and often grow back, even after they are removed, unlike benign tumors .
Cancer is dangerous. While not all cancers are fatal, cancer is the leading cause of death globally, and is responsible for about 1 in every 6 deaths . Most of these ways are quite gruesome- often involving internal bleeding in the brain , cancer can kill you in a plethora of different ways. This is why, identifying and combating cancer is one of the most important objectives of medical research.
Cancer is especially devious, and often needs multiple kinds of tests to validate the size, type and threat posed by a particular tumor. While some cancers can be noticed by simply feeling for lumps , others require more extensive testing. A few of these methods are:
- Laboratory testing- Laboratory testing is done in conjunction with the other methods. These include blood tests, immunophenotyping etc. The results help doctors make a diagnosis and often provide specialists with a starting point. In a nutshell, they look for abnormalities in the blood’s chemical and cell composition, looking for indicators like lowered/raised levels in RBCs/WBCs, changes in chromosomes, presence of abnormal antigens etc. 
- Imaging- Imaging tests are integral, and help determine the size and exact position of tumors in the body. In modern times, there’s quite a few imaging techniques available. These include CT scans, MRIs, PETs etc.  An interesting development in this field was the development and use of radiotracers. This involves injecting trace amounts of radioactive materials into the body, which help make images generated by scans more defined. 
- Biopsy- While this is a more invasive method of testing, and can cause redness/swelling it is the most conclusive way of detecting cancer. Doctors remove a sample of ‘abnormal tissue’ from the body and run tests on the same . This also helps doctors judge how widespread and dangerous the cancer might be.
Diagnosing and gathering information about cancerous tumors is the first step in combating it, and it helps specialists reach an individualized treatment plan that neutralizes the cancer most effectively.
Common Types of Cancer Treatment:
- Oncological Surgery- Surgical removal of cancerous tissues. It is important to remove all cancer cells, and even then, smaller cells not part of the main tumor(micrometastases) may cause cancer resurgence .  Whether or not surgery is a viable treatment option depends on the location and type of the cancer. For example, blood cancers like leukemia cannot be surgically removed. 
- Chemotherapy- As the name suggests, it involves the use of drugs. Chemotherapy works by destroying cancer cells and preventing them from growing and reproducing, and therefore prevents the spread of the tumor. Chemotherapy works by using drugs that target cells in a particular stage of the cell cycle. The cell cycle of cancer cells is much shorter, and therefore these drugs have a much more prominent effect on cancer cells than other cells. These drugs may damage healthy cells, resulting in side effects like nausea and hair loss. 
- Radiotherapy- Radiotherapy uses ionizing radiation to kill cancerous cells. This can be done using both sources located inside and outside the body, called internal and external radiotherapy respectively. There are some side effects, which can be long-lasting; this makes it extremely important to tailor the radiotherapy plan to the individual. 
- Immunotherapy- A key adaptation of tumors is the ability to hide from the body’s immune system and not get terminated by the same. Immunotherapy and targeted cancer drugs enable the body’s immune system to detect these cancer cells, helping destroy them and combat cancer. There are different types of immunotherapy, but a few major immunotherapies are monoclonal antibodies, checkpoint inhibitors, vaccines, cytokines and CAR-T cell therapy. 
These treatments are rarely done in isolation, and one’s cancer treatment regime often involves a combination of the abovementioned treatments.
Cancer is a defining factor in the lives of the patients, both physically and mentally. A lesser known facet of this issue is the mental toll cancer takes on patients. It can often lead to depression, anxiety and feelings of hopelessness. Counselling provisions are often provided the patients to deal with the same. 
Oncology is a field of research that is growing at an increasing rate due to the tremendous demand. Cancer is arguably the most significant disease for mankind today, and treatment needs to be top-notch. Hospitals like Fortis provide the best oncological treatment, and make the cancer-treatment journey more comfortable for the patient and their loved ones.