Cancer is an umbrella term for a disease that comes in many forms, but each has the same initial cause—uncontrolled growth and division of abnormal cells.
As these cancerous cells spread and attack the body, tumors may form, your immune system may fail, or your body may simply stop functioning regularly. Worse, you may have no symptoms at all while cancer grows and destroys normal body tissue.
In the past, a cancer diagnosis was seen as a death sentence. However, improvements in screening and treatment have boosted survival rates. That said, cancer is still the second-leading cause of death worldwide.
Cancer signs and symptoms can vary depending on the type, stage, and affected area of the body. Some of the general symptoms of cancer can include:
- Changes in bowel or bladder function
- Difficulty swallowing
- Lump under the skin that can be felt
- Night sweats
- Persistent cough or trouble breathing
- Persistent discomfort after eating or indigestion
- Persistent bleeding or bruising
- Skin changes, including coloring, rashes, itchiness, sores that don’t heal, or changes in existing moles
- Unexplained bleeding or bruising
- Unexplained joint or muscle pain
- Unintended weight changes
Cancer can be elusive or glaringly evident, depending on the type. In the United States, the most common type is breast cancer, followed by prostate and lung cancers, according to the National Cancer Institute1. The Institute lists over 100 types, but the most common types include:
- Bladder cancer
- Colon and rectal cancer
- Endometrial cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Liver cancer
- Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
- Pancreatic cancer
- Thyroid cancer
There are many causes of cancer—some known and preventable like smoking, others unknown and unpreventable like Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
At the most basic level, however, each is caused by a mutation to a cell’s DNA within cells, which can stop its normal function and become cancerous. Risk factors may include:
Genetics. You may be born with a gene mutation inherited from your parents, though this makes up only a small percentage of cancers2.
Environmental factors. Exposure to harmful chemicals or second-hand smoke can increase your chances of developing cancer.
Health history. Other diseases, such as ulcerative colitis, can increase your chances of developing cancer, as can exposure to radiation for treating different cancer.
Lifestyle habits. Excessive smoking, alcohol consumption, excess body weight, and poor nutrition can influence cancer cell growth.
Once you have an official cancer diagnosis, you and your doctor will establish the appropriate treatment plan. Innovative scientific research has driven the development of advanced technologies and medications that are used to treat specific types of cancer-based on its stage and your overall health. Often, there are opportunities to partake in clinical protocols that veer away from standard treatment to evaluate new medical, surgical, or behavioral interventions.
You will have a say in your treatment plan, but it will likely include any one or combination of the following:
Surgery. A surgeon may attempt to remove cancer, or as much it as possible.
Chemotherapy. A blend of medications that aims to kill cancerous cells and shrink the growth of tumors.
Hormone therapy: Certain medications can alter the way hormones function in your body or prevent their production, which is often effective for hormone-based cancers like breast cancer.
Immunotherapy. A mix of medication and other treatments may be used to prevent the body from recognizing and spreading cancerous cells.
Radiation therapy: High-energy waves, such as gamma rays, electron beams, or X-rays may be used to destroy or damage cancer cells.
While it has not yet been shown to cure cancer, alternative medicine can help you manage the side effects of the disease and its treatment. Cannabidiol, also known as CBD, has been studied as a potential treatment for cancer, with smaller clinical studies showing promising results.
In one study, researchers found that “Cannabidiol inhibits cancer cell invasion via upregulation of tissue inhibitor of matrix metalloproteinases3 .”
Another study revealed that CBD has a dual effect on both tumor and endothelial cells, supporting the hypothesis that “CBD has potential as an effective agent in cancer therapy.”4
1 American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts and Figures 2019. Atlanta, Ga: American Cancer Society, 2019.
2 National Cancer Institute website. The Genetics of Cancer. Updated October 12, 2017. Accessed April 25, 2019.
3 American Cancer Society: Cancer Facts and Figures 2019. Atlanta, Ga: American Cancer Society, 2019. Also available onlineExit Disclaimer. Last accessed February 5, 2019.
4 Ramer R, et al. “Cannabidiol inhibits cancer cell invasion via upregulation of tissue inhibitor of matrix metalloproteinases-1.” Biochemical Pharmacology. 2010; 1;79(7):955-66. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2009.