A new diagnosis of cancer can be a shock, making you feel out of control and overwhelmed. One of the best ways to gain control is with information. So take a deep breath, spend some time learning about your diagnosis and treatment options, and ask questions. We are here to help you.
What is cancer?
Cancer is not one disease, but many diseases that occur in different areas of the body. Each type of cancer is characterized by the uncontrolled growth of cells. Under normal conditions, the body carefully controls cell reproduction, destroying any malformed cells. However, these controls can malfunction, resulting in abnormal cell growth and the development of a lump, mass, or tumor. Some cancers involving the blood and blood-forming organs do not form tumors, but circulate through other tissues where they grow.
How serious is my cancer?
A tumor may be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Only cells from cancerous tumors spread throughout the body. This process, called metastasis, occurs when cancer cells break away from the original tumor and travel in the circulatory or lymphatic systems until they get stuck in a small blood vessel in another area of the body. Metastasis typically occurs in the bones, lungs, liver, and central nervous system.
How did I get cancer?
Unfortunately, we usually don’t know the answer to this question. Although there are certain known carcinogens, or materials that can cause cancer, such as cigarettes and asbestos, many are still undiscovered. We also don’t know why some people exposed to carcinogens get cancer and others don’t. Genetics can also play an important role in cancer development. For instance, certain types of breast cancer have a genetic component.
What’s the next step?
As you move beyond the initial shock of your diagnosis and begin the journey of surviving your cancer, remain optimistic. More and more therapies are becoming available each day, and today’s treatments are easier to tolerate, with fewer side effects. Treatments are also more effective, particularly since more cancers are found in earlier stages. While no one would call cancer a “normal” experience, proactively managing aspects of your treatment can help you maintain a sense of normalcy. Also remember that you’re not alone. Fighting cancer requires a team effort involving family, friends, and your health care team. Don’t overlook the strength that comes from this support.
Finally, cancer is still a serious illness, and one must be prepared for all consequences. accordingly, we recommend that all patients have a health care proxy and a living will. We are available to discuss this with you or a loved one and emotional and/or legal counseling is available if desired.
Words to Know Benign: A noncancerous tumor. Malignant: A cancerous tumor capable of spreading throughout the body. Carcinogens: Substances such as cigarettes that can cause cellular changes leading to cancer. Lymphatic system: The interconnected system of spaces and vessels between body tissues and organs through which lymph, a thin fluid containing white blood cells and other substances, gets to the bloodstream. Metastasis: When cells from an original cancer or tumor break away and begin growing in another part of the body.