Cancer as a disease threatens patients’ lives, as it causes extensive organ damage which results to physical and emotional pain. Psychologically, patients are also affected, as it is well known of how deadly the disease is. The care of cancer, like in other diseases, focuses primarily on preventing loss of patients’ lives, alleviating suffering during and after the process of recovery (Forbat, Hubbard, & Kearney, 2009). Patients’ families and people close to them are usually engaged in caring, providing to a patient physical and psychological help. In addition, the effects of cancer on the body are varied and require the knowledge of different specialists to effectively provide the needed care. Due to all the reasons seen above, the approach of cancer care is multi-disciplinary and all inclusive encompassing a large number of individuals. This paper explores the approach used in caring for people suffering from cancer.
Diagnosis of Cancer
Cancer is diagnosed through observation of symptoms and running of various tests on the suspected tissues, especially tumors. Symptoms help to suggest further tests to ascertain presence of cancer. Oncologists and other specialists use the history of the symptoms, in combination with a wide array of tests. Traditionally, tests have been done, depending on the specific cancer that a patient is suspected to be having (Cope & Reb, 2006).
With time, more comprehensive tests, such as the complete blood count and other blood studies provide information on various cancers that a person might have. These new tests are crucial for clinicians to assess the wellness of body and identify if there could be cancers in any organ in the whole body, which is referred to as presumptive evidences (Cope & Reb, 2006). Afterwards, clinicians and oncologists among other specialists cannot conclude that any growth is a cancer or cancerous before careful tissue analysis by pathologists to conclude if the tissue is a cancer. The processes through which these samples are acquired are referred to as biopsy. Samples vary and may include a skin tissue, bone marrow, lymph nodes, brain tissue and blood sample among others. Imaging technology is also crucial in aiding the diagnosis of cancer, as they assist in viewing inside the body. Such technologies include a computed tomography (CT), x-rays, ultrasound, MRI scans, endoscopy and radionuclide scanning (Cope & Reb, 2006).
Staging in Cancer
Staging in cancer care and treatment is crucial for planning purposes. Staging strives to access the extent of the damage caused by the cancer to the tissues for purposes of planning for treatment and care. Staging also measures the growth and spread of cancer. Moreover, it helps doctors to choose the best treatment approach, as each stage of a cancer is better responded to in one of the several ways of treating cancer. Staging is also used, while comparing cancers’ response to treatment and judge how cancer is likely to behave, which can also be seen as prognosis. During staging, doctors look for a number of observable features and a number of things are observed. These include the size of tumors, their numbers and distribution. The nearby lymph nodes are also inspected to see if cancer is growing in them (Cope & Reb, 2006).
Some types of cancers require cancer cells to be observed through microscopy, as their cells change. Using observation of tumor, testing of cancer tissues and observation of cancer through surgeries, cancer has been classifies into five stages, ranging from stage 0-IV. Stage 0 describes a stage where cancer cells are in the body but no significant growth is yet noticeable. Stage I describes a cancer that has significantly grown into a tumor and has not spread as all the growth is localized inside one tumor. Stage II and III describe a cancer that has spread through having many tumors spread in one or several tissues or organs. Another observation is that in this stage, cancer is found to have affected the nearby lymph nodes and grown in them. The extent of destruction to the body and tissues is usually varied. Stage IV is the last stage of cancer that is found to have already damaged organs and tissues. It is also found to have extensively grown and spread in various organs which complicate its treatment and makes it impossible to reverse damages done to the tissues/organs.
Complications of Cancer
Apart from the excruciating pain and fatigue resulting from the chemical imbalance in patients’ bodies, one of the worst complications that are caused by cancer is mechanical in nature. As cancer tumor(s) grows in size, it may press against the surrounding organs which increase pain and damage. In the intestine, it may press against organs in the abdomen, damaging them. When it is close to the brain or the spinal cord, the tumor mechanically damages the surrounding neurons which cause pain or loss of function by an organ or a number of them. Cancer in the brain may press against neurons which cause headaches and stroke or weakness of an organ or one side of the body (Eden, Simone, & National Cancer Policy Board (U.S.), 2005).
Cancer grows in the host body, either undetected by the body’s defense or by affecting the normal functioning of the body’s defense, making it unable to destroy the cancer cells. This results to another very serious complication that is experienced by cancer patients. This happens when the body defense mechanism attacks and destroys healthy cells, which compounds the damage caused by the cancer cells. This is a phenomenon that has been referred to as a paraneoplastic syndrome. The syndrome is rather rare but its effects are deadly, whenever they appear in cancer patients. It is given as one of the reasons why some cancer patients become weak, are unable to walk or experience recurrent seizures. The third and probably the most important complication caused by cancer occurs due to a mixture of chemicals that occur in a patient’s body.
The presence of cancer in the body triggers a chemical response to the intrusion. The body mechanism is usually confused by cancer and produces many chemicals, some of which harm the body. At some point, the cancer cells produce an array of chemicals designed to assist it develop and grow in the body. This alone is a serious threat to the body’s well being. This is not to forget an array of other chemicals that may be introduced into the body for cancer treatment. However, chemical released by the cancerous tissue causes an imbalance, followed by severe thirst sensation and frequent urination, which affects a patient’s comfort. The imbalance also affects patients’ mental function, where a patient becomes confused: this greatly affects their life, making it hard for them to normally function. The imbalances interfere remarkably with the bowel system and its processes. Issues, such as abdominal upsets and constipation, are observed in patients (Eden, Simone, & National Cancer Policy Board (U.S.), 2005).
Side Effects of Cancer Treatment
Sometimes cancer and its treatments have negative effects on a patient. Due to the fact that cancer and treatment introduces changes in the body and both take place at the same time, it is sometimes hard to clearly isolate the effects caused by the cancer from the ones caused by treatment. Fatigue is one of the most significant complications caused by cancer treatment. The treatment is meant to slow or stop the development of cancer; medication may cause the body processes to slow down. Patients experience dizziness and fatigue. Fatigue is also associated with radiation treatment. Additionally, during cancer treatment, instances of short breath are experienced by patients; medication provides a lee way where doctors provide auxiliary medication to counter the effects of cancer treatment.
A significant number of cancer patients experience severe nausea during treatment, worsening the fact that some cancers cause nausea, doctors advice patients of the side effects of treatment procedures in order to prepare them psychologically. Cancer patients have to endure this, as the response to medications given to respond to nausea have varying efficacy, depending on individuals. Nausea in cancer patients can be a sign of cancer or its treatment’s effects on the whole bowel system for the reason that it may be accompanied by a range of other symptoms which include loss of appetite, diarrhea and constipation.
Due to all the above challenges that are brought about by cancer treatment, combined with effects of cancer, it is a very common experience that a large number of cancer patients lose weight. All these effects and the lost weight affect patients psychologically, which worsen patients’ situation. These negative effects are sometimes compounded by cancers that recur, prompting the repeat of taxing treatment process (Institute of Medicine (U.S.) & National Research Council (U.S.), 2003). A cancer patient’s life is full of uncertainties and worries, given that some patients eventually die when the body does not respond to the treatment or when the cancer is already advanced during diagnosis. This makes cancer patients’ world very worrying and emotionally disturbing, requiring very specialized and coordinated assistance in order for them to cope.
Methods Used to Lessen Physical and Psychological Effects of Cancer
There are various methods that are utilized to assist cancer patients to deal with complications caused by cancer and its treatment. To effectively care for a cancer patient during and after treatment, it has been found that a multi disciplinary team, comprising of various medical practitioners’ family members, psychologists and members of the community is very helpful (Taghian, Smith, & Erban, 2010).
Nurses act as advocates for patients and assist them in taking medication. Psychologists offer psychological support along with family and community. Issues resulting from cancer treatment are responded to through the use of medication, modification of a patient’s physical and psychological environment (Cope & Reb, 2006). For instance, nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, among others, are sometimes responded to through medication. At the same time, these and other challenges highlighted earlier are responded to using an array of ways. For instance, fatigue, dizziness, thirst and confusion require a patient to take number of steps, on their own or with the help of care givers at home or in hospitals. A patient is advised and assisted to stay hydrated in a well ventilated comfortable room. Additionally, a family or caregivers are required to source a low-fat, balanced and easily digestible diet for a patient. At the same time, a patient should be relieved from most of strenuous activities that may hamper his/her recovery (Cope & Reb, 2006).
Patients should be encouraged, as the state of mind is crucial for quick recovery. A patient is encouraged through reassurance that the medical team attending to him is competent and that all the procedures are helpful. Additionally, it is usually useful for a patient to join support groups with other patients and people who survived cancer. A family is also advised to keep a patient’s mind occupied through discussions and non strenuous games. Family and caregivers are also advised to refrain from activities and discussions that can bring a sense of self pity to a patient, as it may increase patients’ worries, making them more confused (Dixon-Woods, Young, & Heney, 2005). At the same time, family and care givers are advised to take all the responsibilities over patients’ health, including reminding them to take medication and assisting them to get to medical facility any time they need.
In conclusion, cancer care is crucial and complements treatment in helping patients to recover and retain their health. Additionally, it alleviates suffering and saves lives.