Cancer has become the focus of public discussion over the past couple of decades due to the high mortality rates and the growing yearly incidence of the disease. In short, cancer occurs when cells start to multiply with no control from the body, which results in them exceeding the amount of normal cells. As a result of this unrestrained cell development, all of the body systems struggle to function properly, leading to various health issues (American Cancer Society, 2015). It is important to understand that cancer is not a single illness; it is rather an umbrella term for different types of cancers, which are different in the ways they spread and affect the body. For medical professionals, it is crucial to recognize the distinctions between cancer types in order to make informed decisions regarding the best possible treatment for each time since they respond to the treatment differently. The purpose of this paper is to examine diagnosis and staging, various complications, contributing factors of cancer, as well as services for its prevention in order to assess the significance of the nursing process in cancer patient care.
Cancer may be an originator of many symptoms, but they are often caused by injuries, benign tumors, and malfunction of the organ systems. The National Cancer Institute (2019) informs that the most common symptoms associated with cancer are breast changes (nipple discharge, lumps, etc.), bleeding or bruising for no apparent reason, fatigue, bowel and bladder changes, as well as neurological problems such as seizures, drooping of the face, and headaches. If the symptoms or screening test results suggest cancer, a doctor has to conduct a physical exam and attain the necessary information about the patient’s personal and family medical history. In addition, the patient may have to go through lab tests, scans, and other procedures. Biopsy is usually the only way to know whether a person has cancer, which is why it is often an integral part of the diagnosis process.
Most cancers form lumps, also known as tumors, which can be benign (not cancer) and malignant (cancer growths). The only way to find out whether the lump is cancerous or not is to take out the piece of it and conduct a biopsy. Cancer staging refers to the extent of the tumor and the spread of it. Knowing the accurate stage of the cancer helps doctors plan the most effective treatment, assess the patient’s chances for survival, and examine clinical trials that may be a possible treatment option for a particular case. The cancer is always referred to by the stage, which has been identified at the start of the diagnosis even if the cancer spreads more or the tumors grow larger (National Cancer Institute, 2015). There are various staging systems, which can be general or specific to one cancer type. However, most of them include medical information about the location and size of the tumor, the cell type, tumor grade, as well as whether the cancer has started to spread to nearby lymph nodes or different parts of the body.
The TNM staging system is one of the most commonly used frameworks for all types of cancer. It is the main method for cancer reporting in the majority of hospitals and medical centers throughout the country. The T refers to the size of the main (primary) tumor; the N stands for the number of nearby lymph nodes affected by cancer; the M refers to whether the cancer has spread beyond the main tumor, to other parts of the body (metastasized) (National Cancer Institute, 2015). The TNM system implies that “there will be numbers after each letter that give more details about the cancer—for example, T1N0MX or T3N1M0” (National Cancer Institute, 2015, para. 7). Although the TNM framework is perfect for medical professionals, doctors often use the simplified stage system to explain the extent of cancer to their patients. Stage 0 refers to carcinoma in situ (CIS), which is not cancer, but has a high chance of becoming one (National Cancer Institute, 2015). Stages I, II, and III mean that the cancer is present; the higher the number, the larger the tumor is. Stage IV means that the cancer has spread to different parts of the body, even the most distant ones.
Complications of Cancer and Side effects of Treatment
Cancer and its treatment usually cause numerous complications, which affect the physical and psychological functions of the patient. They include severe pain, fatigue (associated with chemotherapy and radiation treatment), difficulty breathing, weight loss, as well as unusual responses of the immune system to the disease such as paraneoplastic syndrome (Gegechkori et al., 2017). Complications in the abdominal system may include inflammatory intestinal changes and biliary obstruction (Gegechkori et al., 2017). The side effects of cancer depend on the patient and their response to different medicines and treatment options. One of the most common side effects is neutropenia, which is “a decrease in the number of white blood cells, which are the body’s main defense against infection” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020, para. 3). Neutropenia usually occurs after chemotherapy since the drugs kill both cancer and healthy white blood cells. As a result, it is much easier for the patient to get an infection because their body is less prepared to fight germs. Doctors and nurses can try to minimize the likelihood of the patient getting an infection by following chemotherapy guidelines and reminding the patient to wash their hands often.
Some of the other side effects of cancer treatment are lymphedema (the build-up of lymph fluid), hair loss, nausea, vomiting, and depression. When it comes to hair loss, medical professionals usually inform patients of this possibility and encourage them to think about shaving before the start of chemotherapy sessions. Moreover, nurses and other medical staff can use different psychological methods to support the patient going through cancer treatment. According to Gegechkori et al. (2017), “compared with the general female population, BC survivors have a 60% increased risk of developing depression, anxiety and stress-related disorders within 10 years after cancer diagnosis” (p. 1056). Doctors might suggest cancer patients to attend support groups. It is important for a person with such a serious disease to find a community of people going through the same thing in order to feel understood and motivated to stay positive.
Factors Contributing to Incidence and Mortality Rates
Cancer remains a major public health concern in the United States as well as globally. The disease is the second leading cause of death in America even though many types of cancer can be prevented or treated efficiently if caught early. Almost 5,000 cancer cases are diagnosed each day, which amounts to almost 2 million new cases a year in the U.S. alone (Siegel et al., 2020). Researchers evaluate that by the end of 2020, the cost of cancer care is going to rise to $174 billion. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (2020) reports that “each year in the United States, more than 1.6 million people are diagnosed with cancer, and nearly 600,000 die from it” (para. 1). There are various factors contributing to the incidence and high mortality rates related to cancer. They include preventable risk factors such as smoking (and secondhand smoke exposure), getting too much UV exposure from tanning beds and the sun directly, obesity, and substance abuse.
All of the aforementioned factors increase the likelihood of getting cancer, which is why it is important to discuss them in more detail. Scientists inform that “smoking and secondhand smoke cause about 90% of lung cancer deaths in the United States,” while the government creates health promotion initiatives in order to raise awareness about the effects of tobacco (National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention, 2020, para. 2). Since skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, it is crucial to inform the public about the impact of overexposure to UV radiation from the sun and tanning beds. Another risk factor worth mentioning is obesity “associated with at least 13 types of cancer, including endometrial (uterine) cancer, breast cancer in postmenopausal women, and colorectal cancer,” which make up 40% of all cancer cases (National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention, 2020, para. 8). Medical professionals need to encourage the general population to make healthier choices and give advice regarding most common cancer risk factors in order to minimize the number of those affected by the illness.
The Significance of the American Cancer Society
The American Cancer Society (ACS) is a nationwide voluntary organization that allocates resources in an effort to eliminate cancer. The ACS specializes in research, healthy lifestyle promotion, lobbying, as well as providing mental support to cancer patients and their families. According to the organization’s website, it has over 1.5 million volunteers, which helps ACS make a difference in fighting cancer, encouraging prevention, and advancing health equity (American Cancer Society, n.d.). The ACS has a multi-million program of grants, which funds groundbreaking research across all aspects of cancer. The organization also functions as a representative for those suffering from cancer disparities due to racism, classism, ableism, etc. However, the Cancer Society’s most prominent role is that of the main information source about cancer prevention and treatment; all the statistics, data, and expert opinions go through thorough credibility and fact checks before being published online.
As for the services the ACS provides, there are numerous great projects initiated by the organization. The one, which is the most accessible, is the website at: cancer.org, which includes a variety of informational articles, videos, graphs, and statistics. I would highly recommend everyone to visit the website and read more about cancer prevention and risk factors. Cancer.org serves as one of the most impactful services playing a key role in cancer public education, which is why I think it is really important. The next service worth mentioning is the organization’s Cancer Information Center 1-800-ACS-2345, which takes into account the needs of people diagnosed with cancer, their caregivers, as well as cancer survivors, and provides these individuals with the emotional support. In addition, this service refers people to their community’s resources and support groups. Personally, I think that the fact the National Cancer Information Center has bi-lingual specialists is extremely important as well.
Utilization of Nursing Process
The nursing process is the foundation for the practice of a registered nurse (RN) in terms of providing holistic, patient-centered care. Nurses dealing with cancer patients casually have a lot of diverse responsibilities: from participating in intervention therapies to providing emotional and psychological support. A wide range of needs cancer patients tend to have requires an elaborate approach to care. Nurses participate in the assessment process in order to examine the patient’s physical and emotional status. A nurse dealing with cancer cases is expected to be knowledgeable about the results of biopsy, laboratory tests, screenings, etc. in order to understand the patient’s diagnosis and actively participate in planning. As for the implementation of care, RNs have to combine the theoretical knowledge about the coordination of care and administration of antineoplastic drugs with the practical skills related to resolving supportive care issues encountered by the patients and their caregivers. Lastly, nurses need to evaluate the effects of treatment as well as symptoms in order to meet the specific needs of the patient and possibly initiate additional interventions.
Contribution of Liberal Arts and Science Studies to Nursing Knowledge
Undergraduate education in the liberal arts and science studies has a great impact on nursing knowledge since it prepares future medical professionals to utilize a wide range of professional skills and incorporate the nursing process. The purposeful inclusion of such studies in the nursing curriculum is essential for young men and women to develop their communication skills, to improve their ability to navigate diversity, and to establish effective decision-making frameworks they would use on a daily basis. Liberal arts and sciences are an essential component of nursing pedagogy because such education helps nurses develop their abilities such as critical thinking and reflection. Being able to reflect and analyze things critically is crucial for patient assessment, diagnosis, treatment planning, intervention implementation, and subsequent evaluation.
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Gegechkori, N., Haines, L., & Lin, J. J. (2017). Long-term and latent side effects of specific cancer types. The Medical Clinics of North America, 101(6), 1053–1073.
National Cancer Institute. (2015). Cancer staging. Web.
National Cancer Institute. (2019). Symptoms of cancer. Web.
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Siegel, R. L., Miller, K. D., & Jemal, A. (2020). Cancer statistics, 2020. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, 70(1), 7-30.