Cancer is a disease that has fear and anxiety factors attached to its name itself. Anyone suffering from cancer has to go through a lot whether physically, emotionally, or financially. But developing secondary cancer could aggravate the situation for anyone. It is rare but a person can get second cancer which is very different from primary cancer that the person might be already having. It happens to one out of six people affected by cancer. One can confuse second cancer with recurrence which is different from second cancer. Recurrence is developing cancer after recovering from previous cancer.
Many cancer patients recover and lead a healthy life while some are plagued by second cancer or side effects of the treatment they received. Second cancer might or might correlate to your primary cancer or could be due to the treatment received. The number of people being detected with second cancer is on the rise. One reason behind it may be an increase in life expectancy after the first cancer detection. So, one might live long enough to get another cancer. Advancement in cancer detection is helping to cope with second cancer and thus enhancing the quality of life and survival rate.
Risk factors for developing a second cancer
Several factors might affect the chance of getting a second cancer. A risk factor is something that might increase the probability of developing second cancer. Risk factors may vary from individual to individual and it is very hard to predict them. Let’s discuss some of them.
If someone is having cancer, it is very difficult to predict if that person is going to develop a second cancer. But for certain types of cancer, the chances of getting a second cancer are higher than in other cancers.
Genetic factors: Genetic mutations and certain genes are responsible for increasing the risk of getting certain kinds of cancer. These genetic mutations can be passed from generation to generation. So, if one or more family members have cancer, then it might be due to the inheritance of such genes.
Treatments underwent: certain treatments undertaken to treat cancer can lead to developing second cancer. One such candidate can be chemotherapy which utilises toxic substances to kill the cancer cells. Even radiation therapy can add to the risk of getting another cancer.
Lifestyle choices: Smoking and use of tobacco, not having a proper BMI, alcoholism, or eating unhealthily can cause second cancer pretty much like being the cause of the first cancer.
Symptoms of second cancer
There could be many symptoms of second cancer. You may feel tired or exhausted. You might have a sore or lump that does not go away. A persistent cough that might not fade away. You may lose your appetite or have digestion problems or have difficulty swallowing your food. Headaches, vision problems or bone pain might curb you. Symptoms vary according to the type of cancer you might have developed. So, you should be watchful and let all your symptoms to your specialist in detail.
Although you cannot prevent second cancer, you can certainly reduce the risk of having it in the first place. In fact, there are some risk factors that you cannot do anything about. But you can do certain lifestyle changes to reduce the overall risk. One of them might have already come up in your mind to lead an active lifestyle. You should exercise regularly and can practice yoga or meditation. Always go for a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables. Try to maintain a healthy weight. Put a check on alcohol consumption and avoid smoking as much as you can. Use sunscreens and UV protection gears to reduce the risk of melanoma. You can check for possible genetic mutations that you may have. If possible you can talk to your oncologist to choose a treatment plan which has a lower risk of developing second cancer.
There is no well-defined way to treat secondary cancer. Oncologists might go with the standard treatment prescribed for second cancer. These include chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, and surgery. Treatment given depends on the type and grade of cancer, age, and health condition of the patient. You might even be given a combination of treatments to get the desired result.
Dealing with a second cancer
If one gets second cancer then it is very important to deal with one’s emotions. You may be flooded with all kinds of emotions and may be under a lot of pressure. To cope emotionally and keep your mental well-being, you may talk to your specialist to know all the possible solutions you have. Don’t hesitate to ask any questions and clear all your doubts. You can also talk to your family or friend to let out all your emotions. Don’t internalise your thoughts and feelings. Practice mindfulness techniques like yoga and meditation. You can even get a hobby to help you organise your thoughts.
Join any support group if needed. Support groups have people who are going through similar journeys. So, talking to them can help you a lot with your problems with possible solutions. You will also have someone to relate to and help you to cope with feelings of alienation and loneliness. You also have an option to have personalised sessions with therapists who can help you to maintain your mental health.
Developing second cancer can take a heavy toll on any person whether it is physically or emotionally. Coping with second cancer can further complicate the situation. Certain lifestyle changes can help to reduce the risk of getting it. But there is no sure way to prevent it from happening. One has to stay stronger and fight harder to cope with it.