Cancer encompasses a group of different diseases that can grow anywhere. Cancer develops when genetic changes affect the orderly process of the cells triggering an abnormal growth of cells, which results in a mass called a tumor. The tumor can be benign (which means it cannot spread) or malignant (which means it can grow and spread to other cells). Today, cancer is a major public health concern in the world and the second leading cause of deaths in the United States (Siegel, Miller, & Jemal, 2019). Approach to the care of cancer is multifaceted and healthcare providers must understand the processes of diagnosis, cancer stages, treatment, complications of cancer, side effects to the different treatment options, and methods to lessen physical and psychological effects.
Cancer is a multifaceted disease that affects patients differently. Personalized and detailed treatment plans are guided by proper diagnosis. Ideally, a cancer diagnosis is usually made through a routine exam, screening test, or based on symptoms. Cancer diagnosis relies on affected cells or tissues. In particular, according to the National Cancer Institute (2015a), if a patient displays symptoms or the test screening results suggest cancer, the doctor carries out tests to confirm whether the patient has cancer or some other cause. During diagnosis, the doctor asks questions about the patient’s medical history and the family’s medical history and is likely to perform a physical exam. Conclusive diagnostic tests for cancer include lab tests and scans among other procedures or tests. Virtually, lab tests are used to check for the presence of certain substances in the body to make a diagnosis. However, it is important to note that lab tests alone are not a sure sign of cancer. Doctors use imaging procedures such as CT scan, nuclear scan, ultrasound, MRI scan, PET scan, and X-rays to generate pictures of the patient’s body and look for the presence of a tumor. In other cases, doctors use biopsy, where the doctor removes a sample of tissue to test for the presence of cancer cells.
Cancer staging depends on the severity of cancer and is done based on the extent of the original tumor and cancer percentage spread in an individual’s body. Ideally, cancer staging is necessary to help doctors plan the treatment procedure, calculate the prognosis, identify the most appropriate clinical trials for the patient, and develop a common language to describe the patient’s condition in case of a referral. According to the National Cancer Institute (2015b), there are several staging systems such as the TNM, which is the most widely used cancer staging system. In the TNM, the T stands to the size and extent of the main tumor, the N stands for the number of nearby cancerous lymph nodes, and M implies whether cancer has spread to other parts of the body from the primary tumor. When the TNM system is used to describe cancer stages, TX implies that the tumor is immeasurable, TO, the tumor is absent, and T1, T2, T3, and T4 refers to the size of the main tumor or the extent of the primary tumor. Distant metastasis represented by M uses MX to imply that metastasis cannot be measured, M0 cancer has not affected other parts of the body, and M1 implies that cancer cells have spread to other parts. Additionally, there are other ways, which are used to describe stages of cancer. For instance, stage 0 indicates the presence of abnormal cells that have not affected the nearby tissue. Stage I, II, and III indicate the presence of cancer with the highest number indicating a larger tumor and the extent it has spread to other parts of the body. Stage IV indicates that cancer has spread to all parts of the body. Doctors are also likely to use words such as in situ to describe the presence of cancer cells that have not spread to nearby tissue and localized for limited cancer cells spread. Another term is regional for cancer cells that have spread to nearby tissues, organs, and lymph nodes, distant for cancer cells that have affected other parts of the body, and unknown to describe lack of adequate information to describe the cancer stage.
Cancer has various complications, which vary from person to person. Some of the most common complications associated with cancer include pain, bowel dysfunction, and weight loss. According to White, Duncan, and Baumle (2013), cancer pain affects a significant number of cancer patients. The pain can be acute or chronic depending on the stage of cancer, with pain mostly occurring in the last stage of cancer. Virtually, some of the most common causes of pain include metastatic bone disease, lymphatic or venous obstruction, or nerve comprehension. Pain is also associated with anxiety, a feeling of helplessness, and depression. The other cancer complication is bowel dysfunction, which includes diarrhea, constipation, bowel obstruction, and perineal skin breakdown. Ideally, constipation is usually caused by colon motility, while radiation, chemotherapy, antibiotics, stress, tube feedings, and fecal impactions among others cause diarrhea. Weight loss is another complication of cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute (2017), weight loss in cancer patients is often associated with poor prognosis and fluid shifts. Additionally, cancer patient often develops a loss of appetite and diarrhea, which may affect the nutrition of the patient.
Cancer treatments are multifaceted and have been associated with multiple side effects. Some cancer drugs affect cells in vital organs such as the kidney, bladder, and the nervous system, while some treatment procedures such as chemotherapy can affect all cells including the healthy ones. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2019) highlights several cancer treatment side effects such as neutropenia, lymphedema, hair loss, nausea and vomiting, and memory loss. Ideally, neutropenia involves the reduced number of white blood cells in the body, weakening the body’s ability to fight against diseases and infections. Usually, neutropenia is associated with chemotherapy drugs, which kill fast-growing cells in the body. The second side effect is lymphedema, which is caused by the removal of lymph nodes or radiation treatment that damages lymph nodes or vessels. The third side effect is loss of hair often caused by chemotherapy. Usually, patients experience hair loss two to three months after treatment. The other side effect is nausea and vomiting and problems with thinking and remembering things. Some of the drugs used to treat cancer are associated with trouble concentrating and remembering things for some people.
Cancer is associated with various physical and psychological effects. Coping with a cancer diagnosis and the side effects associated with treatment procedures can have a toll on an individual’s physical and psychological well-being. Knowing the right methods to cope with these difficulties can go a long way to lessen these effects in a patient’s life. When it comes to physical effects, one of the most common effects is extreme fatigue associated with cancer treatment. Fatigue from cancer treatment is not the same thing as fatigue from other sources. Taking a break does not help with this fatigue. The best intervention is to counteract fatigue by remaining active.
On the other hand, the psychological effect associated with cancer treatment can be daunting. Some of the ways to lessen the effect include having a new perspective about life, engaging in things that will take the patient’s mind from his/her current condition, engaging family and friends, and interacting with other cancer survivors. Professional counseling can also help patients cope with the psychological effects associated with cancer
As one of the leading causes of death in the world and in the United States, the approach to the care of cancer is an important tenet within the healthcare sector. Ideally, for healthcare providers to provide the most efficient treatment plan, they are expected to be conversant with several things such as cancer diagnosis, the staging of cancer, complications of cancer, side effects, and methods to lessen the physical and psychological effects. This study outlined the various diagnosis options for cancer such as laboratory tests, imaging procedures, and biopsy. Additionally, cancer is often classified under various stages with the most popular being the TNM system. The study also found that cancer has various complications such as pain, bowel dysfunction, and weight loss. Some of the side effects associated with cancer treatment procedures include hair loss, nausea and vomiting, neutropenia, lymphedema, and memory loss. Lastly, the paper explored various ways to lessen the physical and psychological effects, which included staying active to lessen the physical effect.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Side effects of cancer treatment. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/survivors/patients/side-effects-of-treatment.htm
National Cancer Institute. (2015a). How cancer is diagnosed. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/diagnosis-staging/diagnosis
National Cancer Institute. (2017). Nutrition in cancer care (PDQ®)–health professional version. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects/appetite-loss/nutrition-hp-pdq#_18_toc
Siegel, R. L., Miller, K. D., & Jemal, A. (2019). Cancer statistics, 2019. Ca Cancer Journal for Clinicians, 69(1), 7-34.
White, L., Duncan, G., & Baumle, W. (2013). Medical-surgical nursing: An integrated approach. Clifton Park, NY: Delmar Cengage Learning.
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