Understanding Cancer and Cancer Therapy
cancer has afflicted humans throughout time
it is observed in every geographic region and culture, in every
age, sex and race
Cancer begins as a single cell that goes awry
a cancer cell has lost control over its growth
two kinds of genes regulate growth
oncogenes promote growth of cancer cells
cancer suppressor genes (anti-oncogenes) suppress growth
of cancer cells
when oncogenes are mutated by carcinogens, they induce
malignant growth by "turning on" cell division
it is now thought that most cancers result from a combination
of genetic changes that cause both the absence of cancer-suppressor genes and the
presence of oncogenes
Known and suspected carcinogens include:
chemical factors - including tobacco, industrial chemicals,
cancer chemotherapy agents
physical factors - including ionizing radiation, ultraviolet
radiation, asbestos, pollution
dietary factors - including high fat intake, alcohol, vitamin
deficiencies, low fiber diet
cancer clusters within families are sometimes due to common
it may also be due to genetic inheritance
earlier age at diagnosis is common in genetically linked
many cancer genes are being isolated and testing is being
developed for these genes
Cancer cells continue to multiply without restraint at the expense
of the host
they compete for oxygen and nutrients
they crowd out normal cells and prevent organ function
Cancer cells have the ability to spread to distant, nonadjacent
sites, known as metastasis
usually spread through the lymph channels
spread to vital organs and prevent them from functioning
Cancer therapy is aimed at ridding the body of tumor cells that
are in the process of multiplying
surgery - primarily for patients with localized solid tumors
radiation - the use of high energy radiation to treat disease
considered a local therapy
chemotherapy - used to treat cancer systemically
over 50 drugs are available
usually used in multi-drug combination regimens
biotherapy - produce anti-tumor effects primarily through the
action of natural host
these modalities are often used in various combinations, e.g.
chemotherapy + radiation
cancer treatments have undergone tremendous change recently,
including new modalities, new drugs, high dose therapies and
it is important to contact the health provider who is managing
the treatment with questions and concerns about the treatment and its
Groenwald, SL, Frogge, MH, Goodman, M, Yarbro, CH, Cancer Nursing:
Principles and Practice, 4th ed. Boston: Jones and Bartlett, 1997.
Gross, J., Johnson, BL. Handbook of Oncology Nursing, 2nd ed.
Boston: Jones and Bartlett, 1994.
McCorkle, R., Grant, M., Frank-Stromborg, M., Baird, S. Cancer
Nursing: A Comprehensive Textbook, 2nd ed. Philadelphia: WB Saunders
Varricchio, C. Ed. A Cancer Source Book for Nurses, 7th ed.
Atlanta: The American Cancer Society, 1997.
The following patient resources are available from the
National Cancer Institute for no charge (1-800-4CANCER):
Chemotherapy and You: A guide for patients
Radiation Therapy and You: A guide for patients
What is Cancer?
Frequently Asked Questions
National Cancer Institute
Blogs and Web Chats
OncoLink Blogs give our readers a chance to react to and comment on key cancer news topics and provides a forum for OncoLink Experts and readers to share opinions and learn from each other.
Frente a un nuevo diagnóstico de cáncer o de cambiar el curso de su tratamiento actual? Deje que nuestro personal de enfermería cáncer que ayudan a pasar!