Frequently Asked Questions About Cancer

Different types of cancer can behave differently.  For example, lung cancer and breast cancer are very different diseases.  They grow at different rates and respond to different treatments.  That is why people with cancer need treatment that is aimed at their particular kind of cancer.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. Half of all men and one-third of all women in the Unites States will develop cancer during their lifetimes. Today, millions of people are living with cancer or have had cancer. The risk of developing most types of cancer can be reduced by changes in a person’s lifestyle, for example, by quitting smoking, decreasing alcohol consumption and eating a better diet.

Today, millions of people are living with cancer or have been cured of the disease. The sooner a cancer is found and the sooner treatment begins, the better a patient’s chances are of a cure. That’s why early detection of cancer is such an important weapon in the fight against cancer.

In many cases, the exact cause of cancer remains a mystery. We know that certain changes in our cells can cause cancer to start, but we don’t yet know exactly how this happens. Many scientists are studying this problem.

Remission is a period of time when the cancer is responding to treatment or is under control. In a complete remission, all the signs and symptoms of the disease disappear. It is also possible for a patient to have a partial remission in which the cancer shrinks but does not completely disappear. Remissions can last anywhere from several weeks to many years.

Complete remissions may continue for years and be considered cures. If the disease returns, another remission often can occur with further treatment. A cancer that has recurred may respond to a different type of therapy, including a different drug combination.

Your treatment choices will depend on the type of cancer, the stage of the cancer you have and other personal factors such as your age, health status and personal preferences. You are a vital part of your cancer care team. Discuss with your team which treatment choices are best for you. Don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you have. Make sure you understand your options.

A cancer diagnosis usually creates a sense of urgency in making choices about treatment and services. However, take the time to consider all the options available to you and be as well informed as possible.

The four major types of treatment are surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and biologic therapies. You might also have heard about hormone therapies such as tamoxifen and transplant options such as those done with bone marrow.

Your cancer treatment will be entirely based on your unique situation. Certain types of cancer respond very differently to different types of treatment, so determining the type of cancer is a vital step toward knowing which treatments will be most effective.

The cancer’s stage (how widespread it is) will also determine the best course of treatment, since early-stage cancers respond differently than later-stage ones. Your overall health, your lifestyle, and your personal preferences will also play a part in deciding which treatment options will be best for you. Not all types of treatment will be effective in your situation, so be sure that you understand your options. Again, asking questions is important; it is your right to know what treatments are most likely to help you and what their side effects may be.

Staging is the process of finding out how far the cancer has spread. It is a vital step in determining your treatment choices, and will also give your health care team a clearer idea of the outlook for recovery. Staging can take time, and people are usually anxious to begin treatment soon. Keep in mind that by staging the cancer, you and your health care team will know which treatments are likely to be the most effective before beginning the treatment.

In general, the lower the number, the less the cancer has spread. A higher number, such as stage IV (4), means a more serious, widespread cancer. After studying your test results, your doctor will determine the stage of your cancer. Be sure to ask any questions you might have about what the stage of your cancer means and how it will impact your treatment options.

Reference: American Cancer Society web page –