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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Cancer.....What is it really !!!!!!

This is post # 5 of 365......obviously at this rate it will be longer than a year.

When I was first diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer, I thought I had fallen through a rabbit hole like Alice and found myself in a strange land with a completely different language.    I thought I knew what cancer was....but boy was I wrong.   

Cancer is not a disease unto itself.   It is a term that is used to describe a situation where a cell has continued to grow out of control....thus a Tumour.    Cancer is also very much a laymens' term .   The disease, or type of cancer, is determined by the type of cell that has gone haywire.   It can be a cell from any part of our body...ovary, breast, bowel, skin, bone....etc.   So every cancer is a completely different disease, needing a specifically unique treatment or drug.

In order to determine the type of cancer, it is absolutely necessary for the doctors to find out what the primary cancer is.   Where did the cell originate ...from what organ did it come.    The reason this is so important is that this will help the doctors decide what forms of treatments, drugs, radiation etc to use to help stop the tumour growth and spread.    Sometimes the cancer is found at a secondary source which means that the disease has spread from its place of origin to another part of the body .  This is called metastasis .    I will give an example.  

I was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer (OVCA)  The cell that started the cancer came from the ovaries.   When I was diagnosed the cancer had spread to my uterus, my cervix, my bowel and my stomach wall (omentum).   It was still Ovarian cancer even though it was also on all these other organs because the cell had originated in the ovary.   It was metastasised  OVCA.  This is very important to understand.    The place of origin will be the how the cancer is defined......

Now....when you are diagnosed with cancer you will be given either Stage I, Stage II, Stage III, or Stage IV

Stage I - Means that the cancer is or has been found on the originating Ovarian Cancer it would be only on the ovary

Stage II - the cancer has moved away from the original organ and spread to nearby areas... in OVCA it would be found on the ovary and also the uterus and cervix (pelvic area)

Stage III -  the cancer has moved even further away from the originating organ OVCA it has moved into the pelvic and abdominal areas...such as bowel and abdominal wall

Stage IV - it has moved to part of the body very far from its originating OVCA to the chest wall, Aorta, or throat.

Each one of these stages allows the doctor to know who far the cancer has travelled and usually to some degree how old it is.....time it has been growing.

None of these stages denotes length of time to live.   Often we hear Stage IV and immediately think it is a death knell.   Although the cancer has travelled far it doesn`t necessarily mean there is no hope.

Next the cancer is given a grade...this denotes the aggressiveness of the caner.

Grade 1  - low grade cancer that is slow growing

Grade 2 -  more aggressive and faster growing

Grade 3 - very aggressive and fast growing

The interesting fact in this area is that often the faster growing cells have more likelihood of responding to chemotherapy because it attacks `fast`growing cells.  Not to say that it isn`t effective on the others.

The third are of cancer diagnosis is the cell type....which I won`t get into because its too confusing .  I have some understanding of it but now that I would trust myself to try and explain . 

When I was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer, I was diagnosed Stage IIIc, Grade 3c, clear cell.  (the alphas are more detailed diagnostic tools)   This was the worst diagnosis one could ask for.    I had an advanced (stage III), highly aggressive (grade 3), clear cell (less than 5% of all OVCA).  The clear cell type has a high recurrence factor.  

Medical conditions and terminology are often difficult to readily understand, and often a language that is not familiar to us.   Over the last 14 years I have become more familiar than I ever really wanted to with this disease in particular and cancer in general.   I hope the above allows a better understanding for those who are fortunate enough not to know much.    It's not perfect but as I said earlier I am not a professional in this area, simply a patient trying to understand my condition.


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