What is it?
The term cancer, malignant tumor or malignant neoplasm indicates a group of pathologies characterized by an abnormal proliferation of cells.
The proliferation may turn into a tumor mass, which is not normal physiology or constitution of the affected organ or tissue.
The presence of this tumor mass not only alters the physiological structure of the organs and tissues involved, but consequently leads to the loss of their functionality. The danger of this infected cell proliferation is that they can destroy nearby “healthy” cells or spread, through the blood or lymph, to other tissues or organs of the body, generating the so-called metastatic infection.
Under physiological conditions, tissue cells follow controlled cycles of cell proliferation, the process whereby cells reproduce themselves by growing and then dividing into two equal copies to replace dead cells. The fundamental abnormality resulting in the development of cancer is the continual unregulated proliferation of cancer cells.
Once the uncontrolled growth of cells is triggered, tumor can invade neighbouring tissues or organs, entering a blood or lymphatic vessel . This phenomenon is known by the scientific term of metastasis.
Benign tumors grow slowly and stay in their primary location without invading other sites of the body. They do not spread to local structures or to distant parts of the body, through the phenomenon of metastases.
The classification of tumors is is based on different principles:
- Histological analysis of proliferation;
- Aggressiveness and clinical course;
- Staging, only malignant tumors;
- Terminology, often determined by the tissue involved. Sarcoma is the name given to types of cancer that affect the connective tissues. Leukemia is the name given to types of cancer that affect the lymphocytes. Lymphoma is the name given to types of cancer that affect the lymph nodes. Carcinoma is the name given to types of cancer that affect the epithelial tissue. Melanoma is the name given to types of cancer that affect the melanocytes.
Initially, the development of the tumor is asymptomatic. The first symptoms arise when the size of the tumor mass increases disproportionately.
Moreover, the symptoms induced by a neoplasm are very heterogeneous, to the point that a precise list of symptoms associated with this disease has not yet been established.
However, the American Cancer Society has established a list of main symptoms that can occur in a cancer patient:
- Alteration in the voice;
- Frequent cough;
- Presence of warts;
- Presence of moles;
- Continuous or frequent discharge of diarrhea;
- Difficulty swallowing and digesting
- Difficulty urinating or pooing
- Recurrent fever;
- Localized pain;
- Severe weight loss;
- Continuous vomiting;
- Recurring headaches.
The main factors that lead to the formation of tumors are different:
- Hereditary factors. The presence in the family of tumor cases can lead to a greater predisposition to inherit oncogenes;
- Environmental factors. Exposure to air pollution increases the predisposition to the development of lung cancer.
- Chemical factors. Some chemicals can cause gene modification and for this reason they are called mutagenic, such as asbestos, chromium, nickel, tar. The exposure to these chemicals greatly increases the development of lung tumors. Benzene, which is also found in cigarettes, predisposes to the development of leukemia. Exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, present in the exhaust gases of cars or combustion of wood, can lead to the onset of bladder cancer.
- Exposure to ultraviolet rays, or the over exposure to the sun greatly increases the risk of developing melanomas.
- Exposure to X-rays, used in clinical and diagnostic fields, can lead to the development of tumors;
- Ionizing radiation can have a strong penetrating capacity, to the point of entering cells and inducing changes and mutations in the DNA.
- Infectious factors. Some viruses, bacteria and parasites can cause the onset of tumors. The viruses predisposing to cancer are called oncoviruses. The best known of these are the Papilloma virus, responsible for uterine bladder cancer. The hepatitis B and C viruses, responsible for liver cancer. The Epstein Barr virus, which in some cases is responsible for Burkitt’s lymphoma. The bacterium Helicobacter pylori that can lead to the onset of stomach tumors.
- Lifestyle, sedentary lifestyle and therefore the total absence of physical exercise predispose to the development of tumor diseases, there are scientific studies that show that physical activity prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cells in our tissues.
- Nutrition plays one of the most crucial roles in the development of cancer. A diet rich in salt, animal fats and low in plant-based foods predisposes to the development of malignant neoplasms. In fact, statistical data show that the development of breast, liver, colon or stomach cancer is more present in obese people.
The type of treatment applied as a cure for a tumor also depends on its severity and staging, but in general the treatments are as follows:
- Hormonal treatment, carried out mainly in the presence of hormone sensitive tumors, i.e. breast or prostate cancer.
- Palliative treatment, which is mainly based on psychological treatment.
- Artificial hyperthermia, a type of medical treatment in which body tissue is exposed to temperatures in the region of 40–45 °C. Hyperthermia is usually applied as an adjuvant to radiotherapy or chemotherapy, to which it works as a sensitizer, in an effort to treat cancer..
- Immunotherapy, still under study and development, which involves the formation of vaccines with antibodies to cancer cells;
- Surgical excision, in the event that the tumor mass can be surgically removed;
- Chemotherapy, which involves exposing the patient to pharmacological substances with a cytotoxic action. Chemo treatments can’t differentiate between cancer cells and healthy cells. That’s why chemotherapy harms or kills healthy cells , as well as cancer cells. Many common side effects of chemotherapy are caused by the treatment’s impact on healthy cells, such as hair loss or bleeding of the mucous membranes.
- Radiation therapy exploits the use of X-rays to kill cancer cells.
Surely a healthy and balanced diet can help cancer patients to mitigate the side effects associated with this disease.
Cancer patients very often have a strong weight loss, due to several factors:
- Bad intestinal absorption;
- Production of substances by cancer cells, which lead to a greater consumption of fats and proteins, with weight reduction for the same calories.
- Difficulty in chewing, swallowing, digestion and perception of odors;
- Lack of appetite and vomiting or diarrhea.
Nutrition for a cancer patient must be very controlled and targeted. eating little and frequently help nausea from worsening or prevent you from vomiting. Divide meals into 6-7 snacks per day. Avoid too elaborate meals, favor dry foods, such as bread or pasta, avoid very strong flavors and smells. Prefer fresh foods over hot or spicy ones, take soupy foods in small sips, prefer herbal teas based on ginger to reduce the sense of nausea, to encourage the patient to stay at the table, embellishing the table, listening to his favorite music or in the company of people he likes.
Another important thing is to limit the consumption of cheese or milk derivatives, from whose digestion toxins are generated that increase intestinal inflammation and malabsorption, alternatively you can use legume creams, whose proteins are less toxic than those of meat. In addition, miso soup seems to be very suitable for restoring the damage induced by chemotherapy, to the digestive tract. Against nausea, in addition to ginger infusions, brown rice cakes or soy sauce can be used, the latter having an anti-inflammatory role for the intestinal mucosa. Finally, to compensate for the anemia induced by the exclusion of red meat from the diet or by chemotherapy itself, the iron-rich Nori seaweed can be used to flavor the dishes.