Etymologically the term Oncology originates from the Greek word ὄνκος (ónkos), meaning “tumor”, “volume” or “mass”. Oncology is that branch of medicine that deals with the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. A medical professional who practices oncology is an oncologist.
While cancer is an affliction that is perhaps as old as humanity itself, the dread that is normally associated with the term has been arrested to a very great extent by advancements in the study and practice of oncology. The three major components that have improved survival in cancer are:
- Prevention – by reduction of risk factors like tobacco & alcohol consumption
- Early diagnosis – by screening of common cancers , comprehensive diagnosis and staging
- Treatment – by Multimodality management – seeking the inputs of cross discipline specialists by discussion in tumour board and treatment in specialised cancer centres
The modern trends point to the fact that cancers are best managed by discussing in multi-disciplinary tumour boards where specialists from the fields of medical oncology, surgical oncology, radiation oncology, pathology, radiology and organ specific oncology meet to find the best possible management for an individual patient considering the physical, social, psychological, emotional and financial status of the patients.
Another point that needs to be stressed at the very onset is the importance for the oncologists to keep themselves abreast of the latest trends in oncology. This is borne about by the facts that cancer cells are in a constant process of mutation requiring newer and more pronounced treatments. Besides, as there can be no standardized treatment for cancer across the board, specific steps have to be taken in each particular case to address, attack and mitigate the spread in individual patients.
The field of oncology has three major areas: medical, surgical, and radiation.
- A medical oncologist treats cancer using chemotherapy or other medications, such as targeted therapy.
- A surgical oncologist removes the tumor and nearby tissues during an operation. He or she also performs certain types of biopsies.
- A radiation oncologist treats cancer using radiation therapy.
However, there are other types of oncologists as well depending on their areas of super specialisations:
- A gynecologic oncologist treats gynecologic cancers, such as uterine cancer and cervical cancer.
- A pediatric oncologist treats cancer in children. Some types of cancer occur most often in children and teenagers, such as certain brain tumors, leukemia, osteosarcoma, and Ewing’s sarcoma.
- A hematologist-oncologist diagnoses and treats blood cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma.
Cancer in Numbers
- One woman dies of cervical cancer every 8 minutes in India.
- For every 2 women newly diagnosed with breast cancer, one woman dies of it in India.
- As many as 2,500 persons die every day due to tobacco-related diseases in India.
- Smoking accounts for 1 in 5 deaths among men and 1 in 20 deaths among women, accounting for an estimated 9,30,000 deaths in 2010.
- Estimated number of people living with the disease: around 2.5 million
- Every year, new cancer patients registered: Over 7 lakh
- Cancer-related deaths: 5,56,400
- Deaths in the age group between 30-69 years: Total: 3,95,400 (71% of all cancer related deaths) Men: 2,00,100; Women: 1,95,300
- Cancers of oral cavity and lungs in males and cervix and breast in females account for over 50% of all cancer deaths in India.
The top five cancers in men and women account for 47.2% of all cancers; these cancers can be prevented, screened for and/or detected early and treated at an early stage. This could significantly reduce the death rate from these cancers.
Various terms are used when referring to different types of cancers, their spread, potential dangers and probable treatments. While we come across such terms randomly and use them with little or no knowledge in general, awareness about them is a basic necessity, if only to comprehend the gravity of the situation. While the list is by no means a definitive one, we have sought to explain a few basic terms in the most rudimentary sense for the benefit of the readers.
Acute: symptoms that start and worsen quickly but do not last over a long time.
Benign: a tumor that is not cancerous.
Biopsy: The removal of a small amount of tissue for examination under a microscope. Only a biopsy can make a definite diagnosis.
Cancer: A group of more than 100 different diseases that can begin almost anywhere in the body, characterized by abnormal cell growth and the ability to invade nearby tissues.
Carcinoma: Cancer that starts in skin or tissues that line the inside or cover the outside of internal organs.
Chemoprevention: The use of natural, synthetic or biologic substances to reverse, slow down, or prevent the development of cancer.
Chemotherapy: The use of drugs to kill cancer cells.
Chronic: a disease or condition that persists, often slowly, over a long time.
Imaging test: A procedure that creates pictures of internal body parts, tissues, or organs to make a diagnosis, plan treatment and observe
In situ: In place. Generally Cancer that has not spread to nearby tissue, also called non-invasive cancer.
Invasive cancer: Cancer that has spread outside the layer of tissue in which it started and has the potential to grow into other tissues or parts of the body, also called infiltrating cancer.
Leukemia: A cancer of the blood. Leukemia begins when normal white blood cells change and grow uncontrollably.
Localized cancer: Cancer that is confined to the area where it started and has not spread to other parts of the body.
Lymph nodes: Tiny, bean-shaped organs that help fight infection.
Lymphatic system: A network of small vessels, ducts, and organs that carry fluid to and from the bloodstream and body tissues. Through the lymphatic system, cancer can spread to other parts of the body.
Lymphoma: A cancer of the lymphatic system. Lymphoma begins when cells in the lymph system change and grow uncontrollably.
Malignant: Refers to a tumor that is cancerous. It may invade nearby healthy tissue or spread to other parts of the body.
Mass: A lump in the body.
Metastasis: The spread of cancer from the place where the cancer began to another part of the body. Cancer cells can break away from the primary tumor and travel through the blood or the lymphatic system to the lymph nodes, brain, lungs, bones, liver, or other organs.
Pathologist: A doctor who specializes in interpreting laboratory tests and evaluating cells, tissues, and organs to diagnose disease.
Polyp: A growth of normal tissue that usually sticks out from the lining of an organ, such as the colon.
Precancerous: Refers to cells that have the potential to become cancerous. Also called pre-malignant.
Predisposition: A tendency to develop a disease that can be triggered under certain conditions.
Primary cancer: original cancer.
Prognosis: Chance of recovery; a prediction of the outcome of a disease.
Sarcoma: A cancer that develops in the tissues that support and connect the body, such as fat and muscle.
Screening: The process of checking whether a person has a disease or has an increased chance of developing a disease when the person has no symptoms.
Secondary cancer: Describes either a new primary cancer (a different type of cancer) that develops after treatment for the first type of cancer, or cancer that has spread to other parts of the body from the place where it started.
Stage: A way of describing cancer, such as where it is located, whether or where it has spread, and whether it is affecting the functions of other organs in the body.
Tumor: A mass formed when normal cells begin to change and grow uncontrollably. A tumor can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous, meaning it can spread to other parts of the body).
The piece was originally written for the Express Health Guide 2016.