Dr Sara Kayat discusses ants that can smell cancer
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Types of cancer are named after the cell type in which it begins, which is why there are more than 100 forms recognised. Symptoms vary massively for each group, but some general signs encompass persistent fatigue and unusual lumps. A lesser-known symptom of cancer may be swelling in several parts of the body, according to some health bodies. Two kinds of water retention, edema and ascites, could be linked to a dozen different types of cancers.
Edema is the medical term for the swelling that results from water retention in the body’s tissues.
This typically results from injury, pregnancy or infection, but a lesser-known cause of edema is cancer.
According to the health body Cancer.Net: “[Edema] is most common in the legs and feet, but can also happen in the hands, arms, face and abdomen.
“Edema is a common condition for people with cancer. It can be caused by cancer, cancer treatment, or another problem that is unrelated to cancer.
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“Some types of cancer, like kidney, liver and ovarian cancers, are more likely to cause edema.”
Swelling is an obvious sign of edema, but sometimes it can cause skin to become puffy, shiny, or look slightly dented after being pressed.
Sometimes, it may also produce seemingly unrelated symptoms such as shortness of breath, a cough or an irregular heartbeat.
Cancer-related swelling is typically induced by a vascular reaction that triggers an increased ability for fluid in the cells to leak into the layers of the skin.
But with some cancers, such as kidney cancer, swelling occurs when the tumour prevents the organ from removing excess fluid in the body.
This is because the kidneys play a critical role in regulating fluid balance and electrolyte levels in the body.
As the excess fluid builds up, swelling is likely to occur in the ankles and legs, and may be accompanied by other symptoms such as unintentional weight loss.
Other symptoms of kidney cancer may include a lump or mass on the side or lower back, a lingering dull ache or pain in the side, abdomen or lower back, and feeling constantly fatigued.
The second type of swelling associated with cancer is known as ascites, which refers to fluid that has collected in the abdominal cavity.
Left untreated, the painful condition can lead to an infection in the abdomen, or fluid could circulate to the chest and surround the lungs.
Ascites can result from cancer if the disease spreads to the lining of the organs and cause them to leak.
It may also result from a tumour that has spread to the liver, causing pressure to build up inside the organ.
This type of swelling is associated with ovarian, pancreatic, liver, and colon cancer.
It is worth mentioning, however, that both edema and ascites do not always mean you have cancer. Any unusual bodily changes, however, warrant a visit to your GP.
Although survival rates have drastically improved owing to medical advancements, cancer remains a leading cause of death and disability around the world.
In a bid to tackle the crisis, health bodies are mounting efforts to raise awareness of symptoms and to urge patients with potential signs of the disease to come forward.
It comes as experts have warned that staff shortages could see hundreds of thousands of patients diagnosed late in the coming years.
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