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Cancer is a disease that can occur in many different parts of the body. Cancers originating in different parts behave differently and respond differently to treatment. Whilst most oncologists have a broad range of expertise many specialise further into the management of cancer from a particular area, for example breast, lung or bone cancers. Other specialty areas include:
Chemotherapy Drugs that destroy cancer cells are called chemotherapeutic agents (chemotherapy). The aim of these agents is to kill the cancer cells but to leave the patient’s cells unharmed. The side effects of many chemotherapy agents remain unpleasant despite numerous recent advances in the area. Almost all these agents, although targeted at cancer cells, do affect native cells to a certain extent. Side effects include losing hair, nausea, feeling weak, being prone to infections and many others. Other powerful medications available can counteract some of these side effects.
Cancers present in many different ways and are diagnosed by doctors from many different areas of specialty. Patients often present with weight loss or pain, or a new lump or bump. Doctors will order tests to investigate these signs and symptoms. These tests would usually include blood tests, X-Rays especially of the chest, often a CT scan and then a biopsy. A biopsy is where a specimen of the tumour is taken, either at surgery or with a needle, and is sent for analysis. A doctor called a pathologist will examine the specimen. The micropscopic and biochemical features of the tissue will be characteristic to the type of cancer and the diagnosis will be made.
Treatment of cancers is vary varied. It usually involves a multidisciplinary team of doctors of many different specialties, as well as nurses, social workers, psychologists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and others. Before spread occurs treatment is often surgical. If a tumour can be removed entirely this is usually the best chance for cure. Examples of cancers where this is done include breast, bowel, skin and lung cancer. If a tumour has spread or is in a position where surgical removal is not possible the cancer may respond to chemotherapy. This involves giving medications that destroy the cancer cells. They are often powerful medications and may have many side effects that will be carefully monitored for and treated by the oncology team. Another treatment option involves radiation treatment. The cancer is exposed to radiotherapy and the radiation damages the cancer cells. This treatment is coordinatd by a radiotherapist.
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