Understanding Cancer and Cancer Therapy
- cancer has afflicted humans throughout time
- it is observed in every geographic region and culture, in every
age, sex and race
Cancer begins as a single cell that goes awry
- a cancer cell has lost control over its growth
- two kinds of genes regulate growth
- oncogenes promote growth of cancer cells
- cancer suppressor genes (anti-oncogenes) suppress growth
of cancer cells
- when oncogenes are mutated by carcinogens, they induce
malignant growth by "turning on" cell division
- it is now thought that most cancers result from a combination
of genetic changes that cause both the absence of cancer-suppressor genes and the
presence of oncogenes
Known and suspected carcinogens include:
- chemical factors - including tobacco, industrial chemicals,
cancer chemotherapy agents
- physical factors - including ionizing radiation, ultraviolet
radiation, asbestos, pollution
- dietary factors - including high fat intake, alcohol, vitamin
deficiencies, low fiber diet
- cancer clusters within families are sometimes due to common
- it may also be due to genetic inheritance
- earlier age at diagnosis is common in genetically linked
- many cancer genes are being isolated and testing is being
developed for these genes
Cancer cells continue to multiply without restraint at the expense
of the host
- they compete for oxygen and nutrients
- they crowd out normal cells and prevent organ function
Cancer cells have the ability to spread to distant, nonadjacent
sites, known as metastasis
- usually spread through the lymph channels
- spread to vital organs and prevent them from functioning
Cancer therapy is aimed at ridding the body of tumor cells that
are in the process of multiplying
- surgery - primarily for patients with localized solid tumors
- radiation - the use of high energy radiation to treat disease
- considered a local therapy
- chemotherapy - used to treat cancer systemically
- over 50 drugs are available
- usually used in multi-drug combination regimens
- biotherapy - produce anti-tumor effects primarily through the
action of natural host
- these modalities are often used in various combinations, e.g.
chemotherapy + radiation
- cancer treatments have undergone tremendous change recently,
including new modalities, new drugs, high dose therapies and
- it is important to contact the health provider who is managing
the treatment with questions and concerns about the treatment and its
Groenwald, SL, Frogge, MH, Goodman, M, Yarbro, CH, Cancer Nursing:
Principles and Practice, 4th ed. Boston: Jones and Bartlett, 1997.
Gross, J., Johnson, BL. Handbook of Oncology Nursing, 2nd ed.
Boston: Jones and Bartlett, 1994.
McCorkle, R., Grant, M., Frank-Stromborg, M., Baird, S. Cancer
Nursing: A Comprehensive Textbook, 2nd ed. Philadelphia: WB Saunders
Varricchio, C. Ed. A Cancer Source Book for Nurses, 7th ed.
Atlanta: The American Cancer Society, 1997.
The following patient resources are available from the
National Cancer Institute for no charge (1-800-4CANCER):
- Chemotherapy and You: A guide for patients
- Radiation Therapy and You: A guide for patients
- What is Cancer?
I Wish You Knew
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