Cancer as a cause of impairment

Ranking right after cardiovascular diseases, cancer is the second most frequent cause of death. But cancer diseases and their long-term consequences are also considered as one of the main causes of impairment.

Cancer is synonymous with suffering, illness, impairment, and death, while at the same time being connected in a certain way to daily life. A person not directly affected by cancer may know or have known someone suffering of cancer or its effects or who has died from it.

Over 100 different types of cancer

Cancer is omnipresent, and yet whoever is confronted with a cancer diagnosis is usually unprepared. Men are frequently affected with prostate cancer, women with breast cancer. But other types of cancer, such as colorectal cancer, lung cancer or skin cancer also occur frequently. As of today, more than 100 types of cancer are known of, and basically all organs of the human body can be affected. However, there are major differences in the occurrence rates according to age, gender, geographical location, eating habits or various similar factors.

Different types of impairments

By far not all types of cancer are deadly, and each cancer follows a different path of evolution. Consequently, the consequences and eventual disabilities that may result from a cancer may be very different from one person to the other.

For example, in case of a person affected by bone cancer, it may be necessary to amputate a leg. A women suffering from breast cancer may not always be able to avoid a mastectomy.

Progress in the field of cancer therapy

Many cancer patients survive cancer as a result of the progress achieved in the last years and decades in terms of cancer diagnosis and therapy. According to the Robert Koch Institute (in Germany), there about two million cancer survivors whose illness lies more than ten years before. Many of them are still suffering from some impairment that is a result of the illness or of the treatments.

However, not only the visible consequences such as amputation or paralysis are a source of concern for the survivors. One person out of three also suffers from the long-term effects of the cancer or of the aggressive treatment with chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Organs such as the heart, the lungs or kidneys, but also the hormone system, the nerves or the intestinal tract are often affected as a result of the cytotoxins due to the chemotherapy. Some patients can experience cardiac insufficiencies, restricted lung function or a generally weakened immune system.

As regards women, the onset of menopause may take place earlier than usual. Patients may be more susceptible to osteoporosis; they may experience pain in the bones or develop sensitivity disorders. A second tumor may also develop that may be due to the original treatment or to aging processes.

Chronic fatigue

A cancer treatment usually has a strong impact on the reserves of strength a person may have. Many patients suffer from extreme exhaustion, often over a long period of time. This specific form of exhaustion is also known as fatigue syndrome.

A constant fear of relapse

The psychosocial consequences of having survived cancer may not be underestimated. Indeed, the fear of relapse is a constant companion. Various authors estimate that, due to the heavy burden of the illness, about a third of all cancer patients are more susceptible to develop a mental disorder in the course of their illness. Studies show that more cancer survivors experience depression than people who have not suffered from cancer.

While there is a detailed aftercare treatment plan for each type of cancer during the first years, the long-term treatment – that takes into account both physical and mental aspects – is gaining more and more significance. Various initiatives in cancer research centers are looking into the influences that illnesses, social support and physical activity may have on the quality of life.

Text: Patrick Gunti - 05/2013
Translation: MyH
Photos: pixabay / DAK