Approach to the Patient with Cancer
The application of current treatment techniques (surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and biologic therapy) results in the cure of nearly two of three patients diagnosed with cancer. Nevertheless, patients experience the diagnosis of cancer as one of the most traumatic and revolutionary events that has ever happened to them. Independent of prognosis, the diagnosis brings with it a change in a person’s self-image and in his or her role in the home and workplace. The prognosis of a person who has just been found to have pancreatic cancer is the same as the prognosis of the person with aortic stenosis who develops the first symptoms of congestive heart failure (median survival, ~8 months). However, the patient with heart disease may remain functional and maintain a self-image as a fully intact person with just a malfunctioning part, a diseased organ (“a bum ticker”). By contrast, the patient with pancreatic cancer has a completely altered self-image and is viewed differently by family and anyone who knows the diagnosis. He or she is being attacked and invaded by a disease that could be anywhere in the body. Every ache or pain takes on desperate significance. Cancer is an exception to the coordinated interaction among cells and organs. In general, the cells of a multicellular organism are programmed for collaboration. Many diseases occur because the specialized cells fail to perform their assigned task. Cancer takes this malfunction one step further. Not only is there a failure of the cancer cell to maintain its specialized function, but it also strikes out on its own; the cancer cell competes to survive using natural mutability and natural selection to seek advantage over normal cells in a recapitulation of evolution. One consequence of the traitorous behavior of cancer cells is that the patient feels betrayed by his or her body. The cancer patient feels that he or she, and not just a body part, is diseased.
THE MAGNITUDE OF THE PROBLEM
No nationwide cancer registry exists; therefore, the incidence of cancer is estimated on the basis of the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database, which tabulates cancer incidence and death figures from 13 sites, accounting for about 10% of the U.S. population, and from population data from the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2017, 1.688 million new cases of invasive cancer (836,150 men and 852,630 women) were diagnosed, and 600,920 persons (318,420 men and 282,500 women) died from cancer. The percent distribution of new cancer cases and cancer deaths by site for men and women is shown in Table 65-1. Cancer incidence has been declining by about 2% each year since 1992. Cancer is the cause of one in four deaths in the United States.
TABLE 65-1Distribution of Cancer Incidence and Deaths for 2017