The term carcinoma is a medical term: more precisely, it comes from pathology and describes a specific type of malignant tumor. In this respect, it is also advantageous for affected patients to understand the word and to have an overview of the associated problems and therapeutic approaches. Of course, every tumor is different; lung cancer has a completely different treatment and prognosis than testicular cancer. However, since both are carcinomas, there are fundamental similarities. Therefore, below is a general overview.
What is carcinoma?
Graphic illustration and infogram of a typical cancer cell. See AbbreviationFinder for abbreviations related to Carcinoma.
A carcinoma is a malignant tumor (cancer) that arises from the covering tissue (epithelium) of the skin or mucous membranes.
Since most cancers originate from such epithelia, around 80 percent of them are classified as carcinomas, including bronchial carcinoma (lung cancer), mammary carcinoma (breast cancer) and colon carcinoma (colon cancer) as three of the most common types of cancer.
Depending on the type of underlying epithelium, a further classification can be made into squamous cell carcinoma (from squamous epithelium), adenocarcinoma (from glandular tissue) and other rarer categories.
The causes of carcinomas are unclear, have not yet been fully researched and, moreover, cannot be generalized for all types of cancer.
Basically, cell divisions are constantly occurring in many cells and tissues of the body. In particular, the surfaces (epithelia) are exposed to heavy loads both outside (skin) and inside (intestines, lungs) and must therefore be renewed regularly. By nature, epithelia are tissues that are particularly active in dividing – which is why cancer often develops there.
During cell division and DNA doubling, errors regularly occur in which control over cell division is lost and a single cell is put in a state where it wants to keep dividing uncontrollably. Such small cancer cells arise in each of us many times a day – the development of cancer is therefore also a matter of chance. However, a healthy immune system is not only able to defend itself against viruses and bacteria, but also to immediately destroy cancer cells that have formed. Immune deficiency can therefore favor the non-detection and thus the further growth of a tumor cell.
Another major risk factor is tissue damage from external influences. The classic example is damage to the bronchial epithelium by nicotine and other components of cigarette smoke – this weakens the defenses of the bronchial mucosa and directly damages the DNA of individual mucosal cells. The epithelium converts to becoming more resistant to smoke (metaplasia) through prolonged exposure to smoke – but in doing so it also loses its original structure and the body loses control over epithelial growth; bronchial carcinoma can develop.
In the case of colon cancer, a lack of dietary fiber (i.e., cultural malnutrition) has been identified as a major risk factor, as it leads to chronic constipation, allowing other dietary toxins to act longer on the intestinal mucosa. As with many other types of cancer, genetic factors are also important.
Carcinomas of the upper gastrointestinal tract (e.g. gastric carcinoma) or the urinary tract (such as kidney carcinoma or bladder carcinoma) are meanwhile often associated with nitrosamines, cervical cancer with papilloma viruses, white skin cancer on the other hand with chronic exposure to UV light Load. There are many different risk factors for the many different carcinomas that have a more or less direct and major influence on tumor development.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
The symptoms of such a carcinoma and thus the point in time when it is discovered depends very much on the location of the tumour. Skin cancer tends to be seen and treated early, while lung cancer can grow unchecked for years and may have spread throughout the body by the time it is diagnosed.
Bleeding is a frequent direct first symptom of internal tumors (blood in the stool, blood in the urine, bloody cough) and must therefore be clarified. Functional restrictions can affect the hollow organs and lead to constipation (colon carcinoma), coughing (bronchial carcinoma) or biliary colic and jaundice (bile duct carcinoma). Other tumours, such as gastric carcinoma, go undetected for a long time because the hollow organ is simply large enough to bypass the tumour.
Bone metastases in particular can also cause severe pain and thus lead to the discovery of the first tumor in the first place (e.g. in the case of spinal metastases from prostate carcinoma). Analogously, brain metastases can become noticeable through a change in personality or failure of sensory organs and can be the first symptom of a malignant carcinoma in a completely different place.
Otherwise, there is the term “B symptoms” in medicine: This refers to all those non-specific symptoms that do not indicate a specific tumor, but very often accompany a malignant cancer and should therefore be observed: These include weight loss, loss of appetite, weakness, fatigue, increased temperature, night sweatsand similar complaints. These symptoms arise because the rapidly growing tumor consumes a great deal of energy to grow, which the rest of the body then lacks. Anemia as a result of the gradual loss of blood (tumour bleeding) and the accompanying inflammatory processes can also contribute to the symptoms.
Diagnosis & course of disease
The diagnosis includes a thorough anamnesis with targeted questioning about symptoms, risk factors and accompanying phenomena. A family history is also important, since some tumors are hereditary. The physical examination can sometimes substantiate the suspicion of a tumor, for example if colon cancer can already be felt with a finger in the buttocks.
Imaging examinations such as ultrasound, X-ray, CT and MRI are then carried out, which serve both to accurately depict the cancerous growth and to search for metastases. When planning therapy, it is important to obtain as comprehensive an overview as possible of the status of the disease, since a large number of different and well-researched therapy strategies are available on this basis, and metastases, for example, can fundamentally change the treatment protocol. In oncology(cancer medicine) one speaks of so-called “staging”, i.e. the classification of the tumor into different categories according to its stage. A popular classification here is the TNM classification based on tumor size, node (lymph node) status and metastases.
An attempt is almost always made to obtain a tissue sample (biopsy). Only on the basis of this can the tissue type of the tumor be unequivocally proven and certainty can be achieved when selecting the right therapeutic approach. The pathologist speaks here of “grading” (so you can prove the degree of tumor development).
In any case, a carcinoma represents a very dangerous health condition for the patient. It often leads to the death of the affected person or as a result of its consequences. For this reason, early detection and treatment is extremely important to avoid possible complications.
The symptoms and complications of carcinoma usually depend heavily on the affected region. The cancer also usually spreads to other regions of the body and can also infect and damage healthy tissue. In the brain in particular, personality changes or paralysis and other motor failures occur.
Those affected suffer from severe weight loss and weakness. The resilience of those affected also decreases and permanent fatigue occurs, which cannot be compensated for with the help of sleep. Cancer treatment is not possible in every case. In many cases, this also reduces life expectancy. Chemotherapy can have many strong side effects, such as hair loss, and thus further reduce the quality of life of those affected.
When should you go to the doctor?
In the event of unusual and incomprehensible swellings in the organism, the symptoms should always be clarified by a doctor. If there is a feeling of tightness in the body, bulging or the development of ulcers, medical examinations are necessary. Since 80% of carcinomas are responsible for the development of a malignant tumor, a doctor should be consulted as soon as the first discrepancies arise. If breathing problems, digestive problems, headaches or various functional disorders occur, it is advisable to consult a doctor.
If the symptoms persist or worsen over several weeks or months, the observations should be discussed with a doctor immediately. If existing complaints gradually spread, there is also an urgent need for action. To determine the cause, a doctor’s visit is necessary in the event of a diffuse feeling of illness, general malaise, a decrease in the usual level of performance and an increased need for sleep.
An inner turmoil, inexplicable fears, major weight loss, apathy, and increased irritability indicate irregularities that should be reported to a doctor. The permanent feeling of powerlessness or lack of energy, changes in the mucous membranes or the appearance of the skin as well as a feeling of pain are indications of an existing disease. A doctor should be consulted if sensory disturbances, restricted mobility or psychological abnormalities develop. If there is a deviation from the usual behavior, a doctor’s visit is recommended.
Treatment & Therapy
The therapy includes exactly three different strategies: surgical removal, chemotherapy and radiation of the tumor. All three are very radical procedures that can do a lot of collateral damage, but at best remove the tumor and its last cancer cell from the body, defeating the disease once and for all.
Due to their superficial location, many carcinomas are initially easy to operate on, especially when they are still very young. Depending on the stage, this is often followed by chemotherapy or radiation in order to cleanse the surrounding tissue (lymphatic drainage tract) and the entire body (metastases) of scattered tumor cells. However, these treatments must be used with caution as they are poisonous to the entire body and can have a host of side effects.
On the other hand, according to the current state of research, they are usually the only way to treat a cancerous tumor comprehensively and safely. More targeted drugs are currently being developed and are only available in individual cases (e.g. for certain types of leukemia).
Outlook & Forecast
Thanks to medical and scientific progress, the prognosis for carcinomas has improved significantly in recent years. Early detection measures and raising public awareness make it possible to diagnose and treat many patients in the early stages of the disease. This procedure improves the prognosis and the prospect of a permanent recovery.
Nevertheless, there is no universally valid prognosis when it comes to carcinoma. It must always be checked individually at which point in the organism the tumor has formed and at what speed the growth is taking place. Some areas of the body are difficult to access and other regions only rarely allow for early detection.
The further the tumor has grown in the organism, the older the patient is and the more previous illnesses he has, the less favorable the prognosis becomes. Lifestyle, general health and psychological stability also have an impact on the further healing process. If medical care is not sought, the patient may die prematurely. An aggressive or malignant tumor has no prospect of spontaneous healing. It can only be treated and removed with cancer therapy. It is a long-term therapy that is associated with various risks and has a risk of recurrence.
Prevention is the best way to get through life cancer-free: Since the most common types of cancer are clearly associated with risky behavior, you can probably say it like that. In detail, this means: no smoking, little alcohol, avoiding nitrosamines, only enjoying sunlight in moderation, striving for a diet rich in fiber and everything else that is considered good and healthy.
There are specific preventive measures against individual cancer entities, such as HPV vaccination against cervical cancer. Furthermore, early detection examinations such as colonoscopy from the age of 55 or mammography are highly recommended.
Follow-up care is a central element in the therapy of carcinomas. In this way, the recurrence of a disease can be detected as early as possible, from which doctors promise advantages in the context of therapy. After an operation, radiation or an ablation, there is always the constant risk of a tumor recurrence.
In addition, aftercare is also about offering everyday support. Patients often complain about psychological problems after an operation and need help in everyday life. A carcinoma cannot always be completely removed. Then it is not uncommon for long-term treatment to be necessary. Daily drug treatment remains unavoidable.
Patients usually attend a follow-up examination once every quarter or six months. Which rhythm is indicated depends on the type of carcinoma, the symptoms and the tumor stage at the time of initial diagnosis. The breaks between appointments are usually longer if no new growth has been detected after two to three years.
The family doctor or a clinic is responsible for aftercare. Essential elements of an appointment are an intensive discussion and a physical check-up. Ultrasound examinations and other imaging procedures are carried out regularly. Blood tests to determine specific markers are also carried out.
You can do that yourself
Carcinoma treatment is in the hands of experienced doctors, but the patient can do a lot to help their recovery through a positive attitude towards life.
Above all, this includes dealing with your situation and accepting the illness: Open discussions with relatives, friends and other affected people can be extremely helpful. The structure of everyday life should be tailored to the current state of health and allow enough time for breaks – this also includes accepting help from outside in difficult phases. Light sporting activities usually have a positive effect on the psyche and body. The intensity and extent should be discussed with the doctor treating you.
Equally important is a healthy, balanced diet that protects against deficiency symptoms and counteracts disease-related weight loss as best as possible. Several small portions a day are usually better tolerated than a few large ones. Adequate fluid intake should not be forgotten either.
Specific relaxation exercises and acupressure can help relieve nausea caused by chemotherapy. Mistletoe preparations also have a reputation for reducing side effects, but their effectiveness is controversial. If the carcinoma causes severe pain, it makes sense to keep a pain diary. This should be presented to the doctor at every visit so that he can quickly adjust the drug therapy in the event of changes.