Knowledge is power. A cancer diagnosis can be distressing and overwhelming but understanding it can help.
Our care team wants you to have confidence and trust in your care and to feel comfortable addressing all health care questions and concerns with your doctor. Feeling comfortable talking to your doctors and care team about your diagnosis and treatment plan helps get all your questions answered. When you have questions or concerns, do not hesitate at any time to reach out to members of your care team. We will provide you with the information and resources you need throughout your cancer journey. Your care team is here to support you.
Being diagnosed with cancer may be overwhelming. You have your feelings to deal with. And you also have to deal with a whole new vocabulary of words you’ve probably never used before. To the right, you will find a link to the National Cancer Institute’s Dictionary of Cancer Terms. This tool provides easy-to-understand definitions for words and phrases related to cancer and medicine.
What is Cancer?
Cancer cells and your body
More than 100 types of cancer can affect the human body. Each type of cancer involves normal cells that become abnormal and grow out of control. To understand different treatment options, knowing how cancer cells develop is helpful. Your body is made of billions of cells. Cells organize together to form glands, muscles, bones and other body parts. Cells look and work differently based on where they are in your body. However, all normal cells follow a pattern of growth, division and death. Some cells follow this pattern faster than other cells do. Every day your body makes new cells to replace those that die.
Pattern of cell growth
Cancer occurs when normal cells in your body become abnormal and don’t follow the normal pattern of growth, division and death. The abnormal cells can grow out of control. The cells no longer do the job they should in your body.
When a cancer cell divides, it makes more cells like itself. Cancer cells continue dividing into more cells. Eventually, the cancer cells can crowd and destroy your body’s normal, healthy cells and tissues.
Type of tumor
Abnormal cells can develop into 2 types of tumors: benign and malignant. A benign tumor is an abnormal growth that’s not cancer. It can grow large and press on other parts of the body. It stays in one place and doesn’t travel to other parts of the body. A malignant tumor is cancerous and can grow very large, press on other parts of the body and travel to other parts of the body.
Type of cancer
Most cancers are named for the type of cell or the area of the body where the cancer starts. For example, breast cancer is cancer that starts in the breast. For a complete list of cancer types, visit this link: View All Cancer Types
Grading and Staging of Cancer
When cancer is detected, our experts will determine what type of cancer it is.
Stage of cancer
Stage of cancer refers to whether your cancer has spread to other parts of your body. Some cancers travel through your lymphatic system (tissues and organs that help rid your body of toxins and waste materials) or get in your blood and spread to other parts of your body. Metastasis is the spread of cancer cells to other parts of your body.
Grade of cancer
The grading of cancer refers to how quickly the cancer cells are growing and spreading to other parts of your body. The lower the grade, the slower the cancer cells are growing.
Generally, the goal of treatment may be to:
- Cure the cancer.
- Control the cancer from spreading.
- Make you more comfortable.
You and your care team personalize your treatment plan based on:
- The type, stage and grade of your cancer.
- Results of physical exams, lab results and other diagnostic tests.
- Your age and medical history, including other chronic health conditions.
- Treatment options, including clinical trials, for your type, stage and grade of cancer.
- Short-term and long-term side effects and benefits of each treatment option.
- Your treatment goals, including preferences about pain management and quality of life.
The rest of this section discusses common treatment options.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing and dividing. Because cancer cells grow and divide more rapidly than most normal cells, radiation therapy can successfully treat many kinds of cancer. Usually, you receive external radiation therapy as an outpatient 5 days a week for several weeks. Internal radiation therapy requires a procedure to implant radioactive seeds or a device near a tumor.
Chemotherapy uses different medicines to kill fast-growing cancer cells. Chemotherapy is most commonly given intravenously (using an IV in a vein) or orally (using a pill). The medicines travel through your blood to stop or slow the growth of cancer cells. Often, people receive chemotherapy in cycles. A cycle is alternating treatment periods with rest periods. Rest periods give your body a chance to build healthy new cells and regain strength. The number of chemotherapy cycles you need depends on the type of cancer. You may receive chemotherapy every day, every week or every month. You and your doctor discuss the length of your treatment.
Your doctor may refer you to a surgeon for different reasons. You may need surgery to remove a tumor when the tumor appears to be confined to one area. Tissues around the tumor and nearby lymph nodes also may be removed during surgery. Reconstructive surgery helps restore the appearance or function of an area of your body affected by the cancer. Other surgical procedures include placing ports or feeding tubes.