Cancer Basics

What is cancer?

Our body is made up of cells. A group of cells with similar structure and purpose together form a tissue. In life cells continue to divide and new cells replace the cells that are old and the old cells die. This process of cell division and replacement goes in an orderly way. Sometimes this can get out of control due to variety of reasons; then cells that should have died start dividing and their growth gets out of control. These are early cancerous cells. As the cells divide and increase in number, they may get out of the host organ (metastasis) and spread to other organs via blood or lymph vessels.

What exactly happens to the cell to make it cancerous?

A normal cell gets transformed into an abnormal cell (cancerous cell) by mutation. Each cell has a definite sequence of DNA. In mutation there is a permanent change in the DNA sequence of a gene. A number causes such as radiation, viruses, chemicals and errors in cellular or DNA replication can result in mutation. Once the cell becomes cancerous it has uncontrolled growth and division and has ability to organise and spread into other parts of the body.

What are the types of cancer?

The original (embryonic) cell is formed by the union of sperm and ovum (egg) with both contributing equal number of chromosomes (23 each). During the development this cell divides into many cells. The dividing cells form 3 groups of cells:

  • Ectoderm: skin and nervous system;
  • Mesoderm: Muscle and skeleton;
  • Endoderm: gut, lungs, liver, pancreas.

Ectodermal and endodermal cells line various organs and if these cells become cancerous it called carcinoma. Cancer of mesodermal cells form sarcomas. All carcinomas and sarcomas are malignant tumours. The cancers in relation to blood forming elements are called leukaemias and growths of immune system are called lymphomas.

What is the difference between tumour and cancer?

Tumour is not exactly same as cancer. Tumour means a ‘swelling’ (in Latin). Because most of the cancers manifest as swellings they are commonly called tumours although they should be designated as ’malignant tumours’.

What causes cancer?

Apart from hereditary and genetic causes of cancer there are many other risk factors for men's cancer. Incidence of cancer increases with the age of the person. Any factor that can cause cancer is called ‘carcinogen’. Physical agents (heat, radiation), chemical agents (e.g. cigarette smoking, asbestos, benzene) and irritations to the lining can all become carcinogens. In addition, viruses can transform a normal cell into a cancerous one.
There are also immune factors that prevent cancers and when there is a problem with immune system, cancers can develop (e.g. HIV). Finally the way we live also sometimes determines our susceptibility to develop certain types of cancers (Obesity, smoking, stress).

What are the symptoms of urological cancer?

It depends on the organ involved.

  • Kidney disease symptoms: Kidney cancer may not manifest in its early stages. Blood in the urine, loin pain, abdominal mass, weight loss, fever
  • Bladder: Blood in the urine, urinary bladder problems like frequency, pain in passing urine
  • Prostate: Prostate cancer can remain silent for a long time. Urinary symptoms: frequency, slow stream
  • Testis: Testicular lump/swelling testicle
  • Penis: Painless Ulcer, redness

How is cancer diagnosed and treated?

To say that someone has got a cancerous growth, a tissue diagnosis is needed. This is done by examining the tissue under the microscope. This is the proof that the cancerous cells are present. In some cases (e.g. kidney cancer) CT imaging or other forms of tests may indicate a cancerous growth. There are broadly 3 steps in the treatment of cancer.

  1. Correct diagnosis: Tissue diagnosis is important as the pattern of cells, their nature and features give information on future behaviour of the cancer.
  2. Staging of the cancer: This is done by various tests like CT and MRI scans.
  3. Treatment: Surgery (where the growth is cut out); Radiotherapy: the growth is destroyed by radiation; Chemotherapy: drugs that kill cancerous cells; Investigational therapy: New therapies which are still being tested by trial are some times used as treatment because researchers get convinced that the treatment is effective against a specific cancer. (E.g. High intensity focused Ultrasound- HIFU). All these treatments are used on their own or in combination.

If you are suffering from any of the above symptoms or want more information regarding the above then please contact Dr Vinod Nargund, our leading Harley Street Urologist.

To discuss a specific urological issue or to book an appointment, please contact us or call us on 020 7486 5566 OR

Request a call back