Effects of Cancer on
The Body Functions
There are many different local effects of
cancer. Tumors may become very large and compress or displace surrounding structures.
Tumors can erode and damage organs and blood vessels, block tubes, destroy vital
functional tissue, form abnormal connections between organs and body cavities, and promote
internal bleeding and the production of abnormal quantities of fluid. Below are examples
of the possible local effects of some specific cancers.
|Cancer of the esophagus may cause such an obstruction that
only small quantities of food can enter the stomach. The result may be severe
malnutrition. In some cases, liquid but not solid food may pass. The obstruction may
result from the tumor protruding into the esophagus or from a ring-like narrowing.
|The front wall of part of the rectum is in close contact
with the back wall of the vagina. A rectal tumor in this location may break through the
vaginal wall so that feces and intestinal gas can pass into the vagina. Such a cancerous
tumor can also break through into the bladder, causing urinary infection, secondary damage
to the kidneys, and gas in the urine.
|It is common for lung cancer to grow to obstruct one of
the small bronchial tubes leading to a lobule or lobe of the lung. Such obstruction may
lead to reduced lung efficiency and invariably causes collapse of the segment of the lung
beyond the obstruction. Rarely, lung cancer can erode a large artery, leading to severe
and possibly uncontrollable bleeding into the lung accompanied by the coughing up of
bloodstained sputum or pure blood.
|Cancer of the prostate occasionally obstructs the outflow
of urine so that only a small amount of urine is able to be passed at a time and only when
the bladder is very full and at maximum tension. This causes repeated attempts to urinate
at short intervals and great disturbance of sleep. Such outflow obstruction leads to
severe pressure in the bladder and ureters and can eventually result in loss of kidney
|Cancers may encroach on nerves and destroy their function,
so that the muscles supplied by the nerves are paralyzed. This commonly involves damage to
one of the nerves that control the vocal cords. These nerves loop down into the chest and
are often involved in cancer of the lung. The nerve damage may lead to a severe hoarseness
due to paralysis of one of the vocal cords.
|Cancer of the head of the pancreas commonly causes
obstruction of the pancreatic and bile ducts at the point at which these ducts open
together into the small intestine. This has several effects. The digestive juices from the
pancreas cannot get into the intestine so digestion and absorption are affected and the
enzymes trapped in the pancreas may start to digest the organ itself, Blockage of the bile
duct causes bile pigments to accumulate in the liver and then in the blood, leading to
progressively worsening jaundice from staining of the skin by bile.
From: Fighting Cancer, American Medical
Association Home Medical Library, Published by Readers Digest
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