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Cancer facts

  • Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells anywhere in a body.
  • There are over 200 types of cancer.
  • Anything that may cause a normal body cell to develop abnormally potentially can cause cancer; general categories of cancer-related or causative agents are as follows: chemical or toxic compound exposures, ionizing radiation, some pathogens, and human genetics.
  • Cancer symptoms and signs depend on the specific type and grade of cancer; general signs and symptoms are not very specific but are as follows: fever, fatigue, weight loss, pain, skin changes, change in bowel or bladder function, unusual bleeding, persistent cough or voice change, lumps, or tissue masses
  • Although there are many tests to presumptively find or presumptively diagnose cancer, the definite diagnosis is made by examination of a biopsy sample of suspected cancer tissue.
  • Cancer staging is often determined by biopsy results and helps determine the aggressiveness of the cancer type and the extent of cancer spread; staging also helps caregivers determine treatment protocols. In general, most staging methods show that the higher the number assigned (usually between 0-4), the more aggressive the cancer type or more widespread is the cancer in the body.
  • Treatment protocols vary according to the type and stage of the cancer. Most treatment protocols are designed to fit the individual patient's disease. However, most treatments include at least one of the following and may include all: surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
  • The prognosis of cancer can range from excellent to poor. The prognosis depends on the cancer type and its staging with those cancers known to be aggressive and those staged with higher numbers (3-4) often have a prognosis that ranges more toward poor.
  • Some cancers can be prevented by taking simple precautions, other cancers may have the risk of contracting them reduced by several methods, and a few may be difficult to avoid for some individuals.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/21/2014

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Learn what questions to ask your doctor when facing a diagnosis of cancer.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor After a Cancer Diagnosis

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

1. What type of cancer do I have? How was the diagnosis established? Are there any other diagnostic tests that could provide useful information?

2. What is the extent of spread (stage) of the cancer? To what extent does the stage of the cancer influence treatment?

3. Should I get a second opinion? Can you recommend someone who could provide a second opinion?

4. What are the treatment options? How do you decide among the different options? Are there investigational treatments or clinical trialsavailable for this type of cancer?

5. How much is known about the type of cancer that I have? How common is this cancer and the type of treatment I am to receive? Would I be better off being treated in a more specialized center?

6. What is your experience in treating this type of cancer? What have been the results of this treatment, in your experience?

7. How much time should I take to make a decision about treatment?

8. What is the goal of treatment (for example, to completely eradicate the tumor, to reduce the size of the tumor, to alleviate symptoms)?

9. How often must I receive treatment? How will I feel after treatment? If there will be side effects of treatment, are there any medications that can help prevent or lessen the severity of these? How soon can I return to normal activities after treatment?