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Dr. Pham Hoang Trung

Cancer occurs when the body cells proliferate rapidly and abnormally due to gene mutation (alteration) and unfortunately these abnormal producing cells live forever and do not die (immortality). They don’t follow the process of being produced, living and being dead as a normal cell does (apoptosis). Since then, these abnormal cells are increasingly produced much more to form cancerous tumor.  To nourish the growing cancerous tumor, it creates itself new blood vessels (angiogenesis) to get the nutrients from the body, which in turn makes the patient to lose weight dramatically due to lack of nutrition although patient still eats normally.  When tumor gets bigger, it can compress on nearby tissues and even neighbored organs. More hazardously, cancer cells can be separated from the original cancerous tumor, then travel thru the circulatory system to another body organ to form a newly cancerous tumor (metastasis).

Despite not knowing exactly the cause of gene mutation leading to cell damage that initiates the cancer process but it is believed that factors such as heredity, environment, lifestyle, all to be involved in turning normal cells into abnormal cells, and abnormal cells into cancer.

Possible contributors to the development and growth of cancer can be divided into three categories: external, internal and lifestyle. External factors include unhealthy workplace environments and exposure to air and water pollution, chemicals, pesticides, and herbicides… Internal factors include both genetics and infections.  Finally, the scientists believe unhealthy lifestyle is the essential reason to cause cancer.  Unhealthy lifestyle includes poor diet, smoking and excessive drinking. Smokers are more likely to get lung cancer than others. Excessive alcohol consumption increases the risk of mouth and throat cancers. A diet that is high in fat and low in fiber is related to a greater risk of colon cancer, and the factors for breast and prostate cancer as well.

According to a study released by the Harvard University School of Public Health, poor diet, lack of exercise, and unhealthy lifestyle factors are responsible for about 65 percent of cancer deaths.  Many health experts believe that these risk factors increase the body’s exposure to free radicals.  If a person has more excessive free radicals, then these disastrous free radicals will attack and damage the genetic material of normal cell, which is turn become abnormal.  When the abnormal cell divides in the process of proliferation, it forms new cells that contain a photocopy of the damaged genetic material.  This ongoing process will eventually form cancerous tumor.  Other health experts believe that factors such as cigarette smoking and poor dietary habits increase the risk of cancer because they impair the immune system.  Once the immune system is weakened, it will impair the body’s ability to destroy precancerous cells before they develop into cancer.

Many health experts also believe that stress can disturb and weaken the immune system, which in turn can have high risk of developing cancer.

One theory mentioned that every person carries somelatent precancerous cells in the body, especially elderly person has more. These precancerous cells are just waiting for the appropriate and favorable environment (such as exposure to toxic chemicals, poor diet, unhealthy lifestyle, stress …) to develop to become cancer cells.

If knowing the risk factors causing cancer, beneficial factors preventing cancer and at the same time acting promptly and appropriately, we can minimize the risk of cancer.

There are 100 types of cancer.  They have various causes with different symptoms and vary in aggressiveness (the speed at which they grow and metastasize).  However, most types of cancer are categorized in four different groups depending on where they come from:

  • Carcinomas: cancers derived from the skin, mucous membranes, glands, and internal organs.
  • Leukemias: cancer derived from blood-forming tissues, such as bone marrow. In this disease, white blood cells abnormally increase in the blood.
  • Sarcomas: cancers derived from bones, muscles and connective tissues.
  • Lymphomas: cancers derived from the lymphatic system.
Signs and Symptoms:
Because in the early stage of cancer, patients have no obvious symptoms, so patients are advised to have regular checkups to detect cancer at early stage which in turn have many more chances to be cured. Once the patient discovers the following symptoms, the cancer has developed almost to the last stage:


  • Chronic coughing, coughing up blood, chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, weight loss: can be clinical manifestations of lung cancer.
  • Hoarseness that does not get better in 3 – 4 weeks, sore throat, persistent cough, bad breath: can be clinical manifestations of laryngeal cancer.
  • Abdominal pain and tenderness in the lower abdomen, weight loss, change in bowel habits, blood in stool: can be clinical manifestations of colon cancer.
  • Swelling, pain or discomfort in the testicle, lump in either testicle: can be clinical manifestations of testicular cancer.
  • Yellow skin and eyes (jaundice), easy bruising and bleeding, enlarged abdomen with pain and tenderness in the upper-right part, weight loss, loss of appetite, poor digestion: can be clinical manifestations of liver cancer.
  • Abnormal uterine bleeding, vaginal bleeding, and lower abdominal pain: can be clinical manifestations of endometrial cancer (uterine cancer).
Stomach Cancer
  • Pain and discomfort in the stomach after eating, even a small meal; gradually having difficulty of swallowing, frequently bloating, loss of appetite, nausea, sometimes vomiting blood, black stools, weakness, fatigue, weight loss: can be clinical manifestations of gastric cancer.
  • Discomfort and heavy feeling in the lower abdomen, bloating and swollen belly area, intermittent constipation, frequent urination: can be clinical manifestations of ovarian cancer.
  • Blood in the urine: can be clinical manifestations of bladder cancer or kidney cancer.
  • Breast lump or fluid look like pus coming from the nipple: can be clinical manifestations of breast cancer.
  • Urination disorders in men as frequent urination, pain on urination, slow urinary stream and urinating small amounts at a time: can be clinical manifestations of prostate cancer.
  • Swollen lymph nodes, feeling weak or tired, fevers or night sweats, bleeding and bruising easily, frequent infections, weight loss for no known reason: can be clinical manifestations of leukemia.
Stomach Problem
  • Pain in the upper part of abdomen, radiating to the back, loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting, weight loss, vasculitis due to blood clots, elevated blood sugar levels: can be clinical manifestations of pancreatic cancer.
  • Enlarged mole on the skin, with varied colors, irregular borders or bleeding: can be clinical manifestations of skin cancer.
  • Difficulty swallowing (even with soft foods): can be clinical manifestation of esophageal cancer.

Above are just listed the typical signs and symptoms of some most common cancer. However, these general signs and symptoms do not necessarily just the signs and symptoms of cancer, but they may coincide with the signs and symptoms of other diseases.  Therefore, patient should have an early check-up with his or her doctor to get an accurate diagnosis.

Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy are the main methods in medicine today to treat cancer. Chemotherapy is the most common method among the three methods listed above, but chemotherapy often cause many adverse side effects.


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