There are more than 100 different types of cancer. The onset of cancer occurs with cells divide and begin to crowd out normal, healthy cells. Cancer is most commonly treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. While treatment for cancer is often successful, there may come a time when treatment is no longer effective, or the patient may decide they no longer with to pursue curative treatment. At this point, the focus turns to comfort care and supporting the patient and their family through this transition.
The signs and symptoms of cancer depend on where the cancer is located, how large it is, and how much it affects organs or tissues. If a cancer has spread (metastasized), signs or symptoms may appear in different parts of the body. Some of the general signs and symptoms of cancer are listed below. It’s important to remember that having any of these does not mean you have cancer. If you have any of these symptoms and they last for a long period time or worsen, see a doctor to find out what’s going on.
Unexplained weight loss – Unexplained weight loss of 10 pounds or more may be a sign of cancer. Unexplained weight loss occurs most often with cancers of the pancreas, stomach, esophagus or lung.
Fever – Fever is very common with cancer, often occurs after cancer has spread from where it first started. In some cases, fever may be an early sign of blood cancers like leukemia or lymphoma.
Fatigue – Fatigue may be a symptom as cancer grows. It can also occur early in some cancers like leukemia.
Pain – Pain may be an early symptom of many different types of cancer. For example, a headache that does not go away or get better with treatment may be a symptom of a brain tumor. In some cases, pain due to cancer means it has already spread (metastasized) from where it started.
Skin changes – The signs and symptoms of skin cancers and some other cancers that can cause skin changes include:
- Reddened skin (erythema);
- Yellowish skin and eyes (jaundice);
- Darker looking skin (hyperpigmentation);
- Itching (pruritis);
- Excessive hair growth.
Stages of the Illness
Most types of cancer have four stages, 0 to 4:
This stage describes cancer in situ, which means “in place.” Stage 0 cancers are still located in the place they started and have not spread to nearby tissues. This stage of cancer is often highly curable, usually by removing the entire tumor with surgery.
This stage is usually a small cancer or tumor that has not grown deeply into nearby tissues. It also has not spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body. It is often called early-stage cancer.
Stage II and Stage III
In general, these two stages indicate larger cancers or tumors that have grown more deeply into nearby tissue. They may have also spread to lymph nodes but not to other parts of the body.
This stage means that the cancer has spread to other organs or parts of the body. It may also be called advanced or metastatic cancer.
When is it time to contact Capital Caring?
While treatment for cancer is often successful, there may come a time when treatment is no longer effective. Sometimes a terminal cancer patient will no longer feel relief from the prescribed dose of medication or may experience continuing and worsening symptoms such as confusion, anxiety, nausea, discomfort, lack of appetite, depression, and other issues. If cancer treatment is no longer effective, the patient is weakening, and the tumor is continuing to progress, hospice care may be the next step. Cancer patients who use hospice services reportedly report a higher quality of life than those who don’t according to the National Cancer Institute.