Each year in the United States, more than 1.7 million people are diagnosed with cancer, and almost 600,000 die from it, making it the second leading cause of death. The cost of cancer care continues to rise and is expected to reach more than $240 billion by 2030.

Understanding Cancer:

Cancer begins in cells, the building blocks that form tissues. Tissues make up the organs of the body.

Normally, cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When cells grow old, they die, and new cells take their place.

Sometimes, this orderly process goes wrong. New cells form when the body does not need them, and old cells do not die when they should. These extra cells can form a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor.

Tumors can be benign or malignant:

  • Benign tumors are not cancer:

Benign tumors are rarely life-threatening.
Generally, benign tumors can be removed, and they usually do not grow back.
Cells from benign tumors do not invade the tissues around them.
Cells from benign tumors do not spread to other parts of the body.

  • Malignant tumors are cancer:

Malignant tumors are generally more serious than benign tumors. They may be life-threatening.
Malignant tumors often can be removed, but sometimes they grow back.
Cells from malignant tumors can invade and damage nearby tissues and organs.
Cells from malignant tumors can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. Cancer cells spread by breaking away from the original (primary) tumor and entering the bloodstream or lymphatic system. The cells can invade other organs, forming new tumors that damage these organs. The spread of cancer is called metastasis.

Most cancers are named for where they start. For example, lung cancer starts in the lung, and breast cancer starts in the breast. Lymphoma is cancer that starts in the lymphatic system. And leukemia is cancer that starts in white blood cells (leukocytes).

When cancer spreads and forms a new tumor in another part of the body, the new tumor has the same kind of abnormal cells and the same name as the primary tumor. For example, if prostate cancer spreads to the bones, the cancer cells in the bones are actually prostate cancer cells. The disease is metastatic prostate cancer, not bone cancer. For that reason, it is treated as prostate cancer, not bone cancer. Doctors sometimes call the new tumor “distant” or metastatic disease.

What does it mean to be diagnosed with cancer?

  • – It does not mean that a person has been handed a death sentence
  • – It does mean that the person has a serious illness that needs immediate attention
  • – It also means that the patient must act quickly yet carefully to promote a more positive outcome

What are the stages of Cancer?

A cancer stage is an expression of how advanced the disease is in the body. Specifically, it refers to the size of the malignant tumor found.

Stages range from 0 through 4. Stage 0: is non-invasive, early detection and a small tumor; to Stage 4: Very advanced and a larger tumor.

Cancer like any other disease is more dangerous as it progresses. Early detection is, therefore, critical. As the stages advance, the possibility of a positive outcome or prognosis decreases.

Managing your treatment

Vital to helping you understand your condition and manage your care is keeping track of important phone numbers, treatment history, side effects, and laboratory results, such as your complete blood count (CBC). Use these tools to help organize this information so you can be an active participant in your cancer care. Keep them handy for use at home and bring them along to your doctor visits and other medical appointments.

  1. Important Contacts
  2. Health and treatment history
  3. Copies of reports – Blood tests, Pathology reports, etc
  4. Calendar
  5. Progress
  6. Questions
  7. Insurance

Acting quickly is critical, but you should always take the time to get a second opinion.

*Understanding Cancer section condensed from the National Cancer Institute Website


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