Lightning cancer: definition, symptoms, risk factors

Lightning cancer: definition, symptoms, risk factors

A cancer is considered devastating when it spreads very quickly, in other words the time between the diagnosis of cancer and its ability to become life-threatening is short. What types of cancer are known to progress quickly? What are the characteristic symptoms of devastating cancer? What are the risk factors for devastating cancers? The answers of Dr. Ivan Pourmir, medical oncologist.

What is devastating cancer?

A cancer that progresses quickly is described as “lightning”. “There is no official definition but it is considered that a cancer which can cause the death of the patient within a very short time is a devastating cancer., says Dr. Pourmir. When we talk about devastating cancer, we must take into account the natural evolution of the tumor in question, that is to say how it progresses in the absence of treatment.

Lightning cancer and aggressive cancer: are they the same thing?

The devastating nature of cancer lies in how quickly it spreads. In common language, we tend to say that a devastating cancer is an aggressive cancer because it results in a rapid deterioration in the patient’s general condition. “In medical jargon, the term ‘aggressive’ is used based on specific criteria. A cancer is said to be ‘aggressive’ when the cancer cells present specific biological markers identified by a pathologist.explains the oncologist.

What type of cancer is devastating?

Some cancers are known to have the ability to grow very quickly.

Acute leukemias and certain aggressive lymphomas

This is the case for hematological cancers, notably acute leukemias and certain aggressive lymphomas. Leukemia is a cancer that begins in blood stem cells. “Stem cells are cells which, basically, must renew themselves very frequently. So when cancer cells grow into stem cells, they behave the same way. They proliferate very quickly, reaching tumor masses in a few days”explains Dr Pourmir.

Lymphomas are malignant tumors of the lymphatic system. Lymphoma can appear in the lymph nodes or in other organs such as the digestive tract, skin or brain. “Lymphomas develop in white blood cells which, like stem cells, are cells that have the capacity to multiply rapidly.points out the specialist.

Small cell lung cancer

Small cell lung cancer, also called Small Cell Bronchial Cancer (SCLC), affects approximately 15% of lung cancers in Europe. This is a cancer that grows quickly but whose symptoms appear late, often when the cancer has spread elsewhere in the body (metastases). About 60% of small cell lung cancers are diagnosed when they have reached the metastatic stage.

As a result, this form of lung cancer is rarely operable. Treatment is based on chemotherapy and radiotherapy. “It is a cancer that grows quickly but, paradoxically, responds well to chemotherapy. Cancer cells are indeed very sensitive to chemo. We can treat him”, says Dr. Pourmir.

Testicular cancer

Like small cell lung cancer, testicular cancer grows quickly but is quite sensitive to treatment with chemotherapy.

Stomach and pancreatic cancers

These cancers are slower in terms of growth than those mentioned above but they are often devastating because of their potentially serious complications. You should also know that pancreatic cancer is, in most cases, diagnosed at the metastatic stage. “These cancers greatly weaken the body. They lead to nutritional problems and overall inflammation which attacks the nutritional state. They also increase the risk of thrombosis. Complications that can lead to death”underlines the oncologist.

The types of cancer mentioned in this paragraph are considered to be serious cancers based on general observations from many patients. However, it is important to remember that the same cancer does not have the same constant growth speed from one patient to another.

Lightning cancer: what symptoms?

The symptoms of cancer, whether it is severe or not, depend on the type of cancer. The symptoms of severe cancer may be similar to less aggressive forms of cancer. But if we look at the cancers most likely to proliferate rapidly (hematological cancers, stomach, pancreatic, testicular and small cell lung cancers), the symptoms frequently observed are:

  • Unexplained rapid weight loss (several kilos in a few weeks);
  • Extreme fatigue;
  • Heavy bleeding and infections (for acute leukemia);
  • Swollen lymph nodes and spleen for lymphomas (rapid increase in volume);
  • Coughing up blood for small cell lung cancer;
  • Jaundice for pancreatic cancer;
  • Severe abdominal pain and blood in the stools for stomach cancer;
  • A thrombosis.

How to diagnose ?

The diagnosis of cancer requires the performance of several clinical, biological and imaging examinations. All of these examinations will make it possible to define the characteristics of the cancerous tumor (grade, stage, histological type, emboli). The “deadly/aggressive” character of a cancer is determined according to the grade, which designates the degree of aggressiveness of a tumor, in other words its speed of evolution. “It is defined by the difference in appearance and behavior of tumor cells compared to normal cells when observed under a microscope. The grade ranges from 1 to 3; the lower the grade, the less aggressive the tumor and the better the prognosis.”we can read on the website of the National Cancer Institute.

What support ?

A cancer that progresses quickly will not necessarily lead to the death of the patient in the short term. Some severe cancers respond well to chemotherapy treatments. Once cancer is diagnosed, it is obvious that treatment must be implemented quickly to slow its rapid progression and increase the patient’s chances of survival. “Small cell lung cancer and testicular cancer are cancers that respond well to treatment with chemotherapy, even if there is metastasis. In certain cases, it is entirely possible to eliminate them and therefore cure the patients concerned.indicates the oncologist.

Known risk factors?

Cancer, whether devastating or not, is not linked to a single cause. It results from a set of factors (internal and external) that can interact with each other. However, according to Dr. Pourmir, certain factors are suspected of increasing the risk of developing severe cancer.

A weakening of the immune system

The immune system can be weakened by a congenital disease, AIDS or even the taking of immunosuppressive drugs. When the immune system is weakened, it functions less well and defends itself less well. However, we know that the body’s immune system is equipped with specialized weapons, “killer cells”, capable of detecting abnormal cells and eliminating them. This is why not all cancer cells that can develop in the body become cancers that threaten the body. To summarize, our immune system, when functioning correctly, is capable of destroying cancers when they are at the very beginning of their development. In people who have a weakened immune system, cancer is more likely to develop quickly because the immune system is not able to fight it.

Un stress important

Here again, this is only a hypothesis, but it seems that people who have experienced a stressful event (death of a loved one, for example) have an increased risk of developing devastating cancer. “We know that the psyche has an influence on the immune system. Significant stress can generate immunosuppression which accelerates the development of cancer.says Dr. Pourmir.

Certain infections and chemical exposures

The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), responsible for infectious mononucleosis, could increase the risk of devastating cancer. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, “In some cases, long-term EBV infection increases the risk of developing certain types of cancer, including certain types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.”.

Repeated and prolonged exposure to chemicals such as glyphosate or benzene could also increase the risk of devastating cancer.