Cancer Awareness & Prevention

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Potential complications of cancer and cancer treatments

A cancer diagnosis is a life-altering event experienced by millions of people across the globe each year. According to the World Health Organization, 14 million new cases of cancer were reported worldwide in 2012, highlighting just how formidable a foe cancer truly is.

Cancer researchers continue to work hard to develop new treatments, and outreach programs aimed at raising awareness and promoting preventive measures can be highly effective. But in its "World Cancer Report 2014," the WHO estimated that annual cancer cases will rise from 14 million in 2012 to 22 million within the next two decades. Cancer prevention should be a priority for people of all ages, but gaining a greater understanding of the potential complications of cancer and its treatments can help patients and their families combat this potentially deadly disease should they ever receive a cancer diagnosis.

No two people are the same, and some people may respond to cancer and its treatments better than others. While the severity of symptoms can vary greatly from patient to patient, the Mayo Clinic notes that the following are some of the complications that may result from cancer and its various treatments.

• Chemical changes in the body: Cancer upsets the body in various ways, and it may interfere with the body's normal chemical balance. Chemical changes in the body related to cancer may result in frequent urination, excessive thirst, constipation, and feelings of confusion.

• Diarrhea: The bowels may be affected by cancer and certain cancer treatments, and that can lead to diarrhea. Patients receiving chemotherapy or radiation therapy to the pelvis may experience diarrhea, and this diarrhea may be characterized in grades. These grades range from mild (grade 1 indicates an increase of less than four stools per day) to severe (grade 4 is potentially life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention).

• Difficulty breathing: Shortness of breath may be a side effect of cancer, though the Mayo Clinic notes that treatment may alleviate this complication.

• Nausea: Cancer may cause nausea prior to beginning treatment, but treatment also can cause nausea. Oncologists may advise patients that nausea is a likely side effect of their treatment plan, and in such instances, patients may be prescribed medications to prevent or reduce instances of nausea.

• Pain: Some cancer sufferers experience pain as a result of the cancer, while others experience pain only after beginning treatment. Some people may not experience pain at all. Doctors may want to treat cancer-related pain with medications or other methods.

• Weight loss: Cancer cells take food from normal cells, depriving those cells of the nutrients they need and contributing to weight loss. Some cancer patients may experience a loss of appetite that also contributes to unwanted weight loss.

Cancer researchers continue to advance treatments and improve survival rates for various cancers. But cancer patients and their families should still prepare themselves for potential complications of cancer and cancer treatments.