Frequently Asked Questions About Cancer

Do you have questions about cancer? Many of us do, as it’s always best to ask them. Staying informed about cancer can help in the fight against it – whether you personally have been diagnosed or know somebody with the disease. Here are five frequently asked questions (FAQs) people have regarding cancer.

What Causes Cancer?

While no one yet knows the exact cause of cancer, there are certainly factors that play a role in the disease’s growth and subsequent spread – some controllable, others beyond our control. For example, using tobacco and alcohol is known to increase the risk of developing cancer of the lungs, liver, bladder, kidneys, throat, pancreas, and other organs. Moreover, spending too much time in the sun can augment one’s chances of developing different forms of skin cancer, such as melanoma.

Genetics can also play a role in people getting cancer. When a person carries an inherited copy of an abnormal gene, their cells already start with one mutation. This abnormality makes it quicker and easier for enough mutations to build that it causes cancer. However, bear in mind that even if you have an inherited susceptibility to cancer, it does not automatically mean you will get the disease.

What Are the Most Common Cancer Symptoms?

Cancer symptoms vary based on where its located in your body, and what stage its in. For instance, even a small brain tumor can exhibit symptoms depending on what part of the brain its growing in, while with pancreatic cancer, symptoms usually don’t present until the cancer has grown enough to push against nearby organs. Overall, some of the most common symptoms of cancer include: significant and unexplainable weight loss; fatigue; fever; and changes in bowel habits. Keep in mind, there’s a plethora of conditions and illnesses that can cause these symptoms, but if you’re experiencing several symptoms that won’t go away, it’s best to book an appointment with your physician.

How Does Cancer Spread?

Cancer always begins in one part of the body, which is called the primary site. Sometimes, cells from the primary site break away and travel to other parts of the body through either the bloodstream or lymphatic system, forming other tumors, in a process called metastasis. Cancers that have spread beyond the organ it originated in but has not yet spread to distant regions of the body is called locally advanced cancer, while cancers that have spread to distant parts of the body are considered advanced. When diagnosed with advanced cancer, it’s important to consult with your physician to gain a definitive understanding, as having advanced cancer does not always mean the cancer has spread.

How is Cancer Diagnosed?

If you exhibit symptoms that your physician feels warrant a screening test, and if the screening test suggests cancer, your physician must then find out for sure by way of diagnosis. Cancer can sometimes be diagnosed using lab tests that measure certain substances in your blood or urine that may show tumor markers. Other diagnostic tools include CT scans, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), bone scan, or nuclear scan. In most cases, the only definitive way for a physician to diagnosis cancer is by ordering a biopsy – a procedure in which a tissue sample is taken and studied under a microscope by a pathologist. The pathology report plays an integral role in the diagnosis, and subsequent treatment of cancer.

How is Cancer Treated?

After you’re diagnosed with cancer, your oncologist will construct a treatment plan for you. Cancer treatment always depends on the type of cancer you have, and how advanced it is. While some cancer patients only require one form of treatment, most undergo a combination of treatments, which may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, or targeted therapy. You may also qualify to take part in a clinical trial that tests the efficacy of a new, potentially beneficial cancer treatment.