Definition and Overview
A malignant neoplastic disease is a disease wherein cells divide rapidly, causing them to form abnormal tissues called neoplasm. These abnormal growths, also known as tumors, can form in any part of the body. While some may be benign, a large number of them are malignant, which is the primary cause of cancer. Thus, all types of cancer are called malignant neoplastic diseases.
Malignant growths are of special concern as they grow consistently and therefore have the tendency to spread to other parts of the body. These neoplasms can destroy the healthy tissue that surrounds them and can grow slowly or rapidly, without adhering to normal cell growth mechanisms. In fact, they can metastasize or establish new tumors in other parts of the body through vascular growth.
Some malignant neoplasms, however, also develop from benign tumors. Thus, all tumors should still be treated or at least monitored, even if they are benign.
Causes of Condition
While neoplastic etiology is a developing study, certain risk factors that may lead to the development of malignant neoplastic disease are known. These include:
Excessive alcohol consumption
Obesity or being overweight
Disorders of the immune system
Certain oncogenic viruses, such as human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis B
Excessive exposure to radiation
Excessive exposure to UV rays
Radiation and ultraviolet rays can induce pyrimidine dimers in the DNA and can thus cause skin cancers. Other factors, on the other hand, can trigger certain genetic mutations, which in turn can cause tissues to proliferate or multiply rapidly.
Malignant neoplasms can grow in various body parts, thus causing diseases localized to a certain organ. For example, a patient can be diagnosed with a malignant neoplasm of the breast, which is also known as breast cancer.
The earliest signs of malignant neoplastic disease include the following:
Shortness of breath
Unexplained weight loss
Abnormal lumps under the skin
The symptoms that a person with a malignant neoplasm experience usually depend on where the tumor is located. If a person has a neoplastic disease in the breast, she may experience abnormal breast discharges, breast pain, and other breast-related symptoms on top of the symptoms identified above. Likewise, if a person has a neoplasm of the skin, he or she may experience skin lesions, sores, skin ulcers, and abnormal red patches on the skin. On the other hand, a person diagnosed with malignant neoplasm of the colon may experience abdominal pain, bloody stools, and sudden changes in stool consistency.
Some neoplastic diseases may also be asymptomatic, in which patients do not experience any obvious symptoms during the early stages of the disease. In such cases, symptoms may only be noticed when the disease is already in its advanced stages. Such types of malignant neoplastic diseases are more dangerous, as in most cases, early detection of the abnormal neoplasms increases a person’s chances of recovery and survival.
As part of neoplastic disease diagnosis, patients who present with abnormal lumps or growths in any part of the body may undergo a diagnostic procedure called a biopsy. During a biopsy, a small sample of the neoplasm is taken from the body and is placed under microscopic examination to analyze its cellular component. This is the most effective way to determine whether a tumor is cancerous or not.
Other tests may also be used to support the diagnosis. These may include:
CAT scan (computed axial tomography)
MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
PET (positron emission tomography) – This test can chart the location, size, and extent of the tumor.
Who to See and Types of Treatments Available
Patients diagnosed with neoplasm or cancer should be placed under the care of a cancer specialist, also known as an oncologist. An oncologist usually spearheads an entire team of doctors and consultants involved in the patient’s overall treatment plan.
This treatment plan may involve or focus on various procedures including:
1.) Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy can be used to either cure cancer or control the growth of the neoplasms. It is very effective in preventing the further spread of the disease and in slowing down the growth of malignant tumors. Chemotherapy can also be used to destroy the actual neoplasm or cancerous cells, so that they can no longer grow back. By shrinking or destroying cancerous neoplasms, this procedure can also relieve the symptoms of the disease. However, chemotherapy is not without its risks. The procedure is associated with a high risk of complications due to its tendency to affect even healthy tissues. The more healthy tissues are affected, the more side effects the patient may experience during treatment.
There are many ways to perform chemotherapy. The anti-cancer medications can be delivered orally, intravenously, or injected into the body. More radical delivery methods include intrathecal (injected into the space between the brain and the spinal cord), topical (applied to the skin), intraperitoneal (injected into the peritoneal cavity in the abdomen), and intra-arterial (injected directly into the artery leading to the neoplasm). The specific method used will depend on the location of the tumor.
2.) Surgery. The purpose of surgery is to remove all or as much of the neoplasm as possible. In most cases and whenever possible, surgeons remove the entire tumor as well as a margin of healthy tissue around it. However, if the tumor cannot be completely removed, the surgeon tries to take out as much of it as possible. In some cases, such as in the case of breast cancer, the entire breast can also be removed.
Patients who undergo surgical removal of a malignant neoplasm still have to undergo further treatment, which can be either chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
3.) Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy is currently one of the most common treatments used for malignant neoplastic diseases. The procedure delivers high-energy radioactive waves, such as x-rays, gamma rays, or proton/electron beams to neoplastic growths to damage their DNA composition and eventually destroy them. This procedure also goes by the name irradiation or radiotherapy. Using various technologies, radiotherapy can be performed using many different techniques to improve its accuracy and minimize the destruction of healthy cells. Thus, it can minimize the complications and side effects that have long been associated with cancer treatment.
All three procedures may be combined to improve treatment outcomes. Typically, patients undergo surgery first to remove the tumor or most of it. After this, any remaining neoplastic tissue is destroyed using either chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
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