Frequently Asked Questions

Cancer is what we call a disease in which abnormal cells in the body begin to grow out of control. Normal cells grow and divide as the body needs them and when they die they are replaced by new cells. Sometimes cells don’t die and they form a mass or tumor. Tumors can be benign or malignant. Benign tumors are not cancer. They can usually be removed and rarely grow back. Malignant tumors are cancer. When they are removed they may grow back. Cells from malignant tumors can damage tissues and organs that are nearby. They can also spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body via the bloodstream or lymphatic system.

Clinical trials are studies of promising new or experimental treatments that may be beneficial to patients. Clinical trials must go through three phases to obtain FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approval. The first phase study finds the best way to give a new treatment and tests the safety of the drug. Phase II studies are designed to see if the drug works. And phase III involves testing large numbers of patients where one group (the control group) receives the standard treatment and the other group receives the new treatment. Participants in clinical trials have a team of experts caring for them and monitoring their progress, but they do not know whether the treatment will work and what the side effects may be.

The most common cancer treatments are chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery and biologic therapy. Hormone therapy and transplant options like those done with bone marrow may also be effective for some types of cancer. Different kinds of cancer respond differently to different types of treatment. Other factors that impact treatment include how widespread the cancer is, and the patient’s age and general health. It’s important that patients understand all of their treatment options.

Some types of cancer may be preventable. For example, smoking cigarettes, cigars or pipes or using smokeless tobacco have been shown to cause cancer. To reduce your risk, don’t start; and if you already smoke, stop. To lower your risk of skin cancer, use sunscreen, wear a hat and shirt or just stay out of the sun when possible. Plus, eat a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains to help cut the risk of other cancers. Ask your physician how you can develop an anti-cancer lifestyle.

Yes. Although thanks to advances in early detection and treatments many people with cancer are cured, doctors can’t guarantee that cancer won’t come back. Sometimes undetected cancer cells remain in the body after treatment. When cancer returns it’s called a recurrence. Doctors schedule follow-up visits with patients to monitor for recurrence. Follow-up appointments may include a physical exam and lab tests, x-rays, and other tests. If the cancer has returned, you and your doctor will decide on new treatment goals and a new treatment plan.

If you have cancer, eating well and staying active is important. Some treatments may change the way foods taste. Be sure to eat enough calories to maintain your weight and include protein to keep up your strength. A healthy diet may help you feel better and some foods can even help minimize side effects.

Regular exercise can help relieve stress and may even reduce some side effects like nausea. Whether you choose walking, yoga, swimming or other activity, talk to your doctor before you start. If you experience pain while exercising, let your doctor or nurse know.

In order to plan the most effective cancer treatment, the doctor will need to know the extent, or stage, of the disease. For most cancers the size of the tumor and whether the cancer has spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body determines the stage.

Doctors will ask about your personal and family medical history, perform a physical exam and possibly order lab tests or other procedures including scans or a biopsy. Lab tests of the blood, urine, or other fluids can help doctors assess how well an organ (such as the kidney) is doing its job. Also, high amounts of some substances may be a sign of cancer. Imaging procedures create pictures of areas inside your body that help the doctor see whether a tumor is present. These pictures can be made in several ways:

  • X-rays
  • CT scan
  • Ultrasound
  • MRI
  • PET scan

A biopsy is when a doctor removes a sample of tissue and sends it to a pathology lab for analysis.

There are many kinds of cancer and symptoms vary. Only a doctor is qualified to diagnose and treat problems, so if you experience symptoms, see your doctor immediately. Some common symptoms associated with cancer include:

  • A thickening or lump in the breast or any other part of the body
  • A new mole or a change in an existing mole
  • A sore that does not heal
  • Hoarseness or a cough that does not go away
  • Changes in bowel or bladder habits
  • Discomfort after eating
  • A hard time swallowing
  • Weight gain or loss with no known reason
  • Unusual bleeding or discharge
  • Feeling weak or very tired

According to the American Cancer Society, more than one million people get cancer each year and approximately one out of every two American men and one out of every three American women will have some type of cancer at some point during their lifetime. Anyone can get cancer at any age, however cancer is more commonly diagnosed in people age of 55 and older. Common risk factors for cancer include:

  • Growing older
  • Tobacco
  • Sunlight
  • Ionizing radiation
  • Certain chemicals and other substances
  • Some viruses and bacteria
  • Certain hormones
  • Family history of cancer
  • Alcohol
  • Poor diet, lack of physical activity, or being overweight

Having one or more risk factors doesn’t mean you’ll get cancer. Talk with your doctor about ways to prevent cancer and schedule regular checkups. Early detection is an important weapon in the fight against cancer.