Cancer can start anywhere in the body. It begins when cells grow uncontrollably outpacing normal cells, making it difficult for the body to function the way it should. For many people, cancer can be treated very effecti vely; in fact, now more than ever, more people are living full lives after receiving their cancer treatment.
There are many types of cancer, as it is not a single disease. Cancer can start in the lungs, breast, colon, or even blood. Different types of cancer have some similarities, but they are different in the way they grow and spread.
Each of the cells in our body has certain functions. Normal cells divide in an orderly fashion. They die when they are worn out or damaged, and new cells take their place. Cancer begins when cells begin to grow uncontrollably. Cancer cells continue to grow and form new cells that displace normal cells. This causes problems in the area of the body where the cancer (cancerous tumor) started.
Cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body. For example, cancer cells in the lung can travel to the bones and grow there. The spread of cancer cells is called metastasis. When lung cancer cells begin to grow in the bones, it is still called lung cancer. To doctors, cancer cells in the bones look just like the ones that started in the lung. The disease is not referred to as bone cancer (cancer in the bones) unless it has originated in the bones.
Some cancers grow and spread quickly, while others grow more slowly. They also respond to treatment differently. Some types of cancer are best treated with surgery; Others respond better to medications, known as chemotherapy. Two or more treatments are often given for best results.
When a person has cancer, the doctor needs to know what type of cancer it is. People with cancer need specific treatment that is effective for their type of cancer.
Most cancers form a mass referred to as a tumor or growth. However, not all masses (tumors) are cancerous. Doctors remove a fragment of the mass and analyze it to see if it is cancer. Masses that are not cancerous are called benign tumors, and cancerous masses are called malignant tumors.
There are some types of cancer, such as leukemia (cancer in the blood) that do not form tumors. These cancers develop in blood cells (blood cells) or in other cells of the body.
“There is a moment of fear that you go through when you are told you have cancer. At first it is so difficult to think of anything other than the diagnosis. It is the first thing you think about every morning. I want people with cancer to know that their situation can improve. Talking about your cancer helps you deal with all the new emotions you are feeling. Remember, it is normal to get upset.”
- Carmen, cancer survivor.
The doctor also needs to know if and how much the cancer has spread. This is known as the classification of the stage of the cancer. You may have heard other people say that the cancer was stage 1 or stage 2. Knowing the stage of the cancer helps your doctor decide which type of treatment is best for you.
For each type of cancer there are tests that can be done to determine the stage of the cancer. As a rule, a minor stage (such as stage 1 or 2) means that the cancer has not spread or has not spread as much. A larger number (like 3 or 4) means more spread. Stage 4 is the largest.
Ask your doctor to explain the stage of your cancer and what is involved in your case.
The most common cancer treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
surgery can be used to remove the cancerous tumor. The doctor may also remove some or all of the part of the body that the cancer is affecting. For breast cancer, part or all of the breast may be removed. In the case of prostate cancer, the entire prostate gland may be removed. Surgery is not helpful for all types of cancer. For example, blood cancers are best treated with medications.
chemotherapy (or chemo) is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells or reduce their growth. Some types of chemotherapy can be given intravenously (into a vein through a needle), and others consist of swallowing pills. Because chemotherapy drugs reach almost all parts of the body, they are useful for cancer that has spread.
radiation therapy is also used to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells. It can be used alone or together with surgery or chemotherapy. Radiation therapy is similar to undergoing an x-ray. Sometimes it can be administered by implanting a “seed” in the cancerous area that will release radiation.
“What helped me was spending time to stop and analyze the general situation. Getting answers to my questions helped me make a good decision. I did what needed to be done. I proceeded with the necessary things that gave me peace of mind, and not with what other people thought I needed to do to have peace of mind. ”
- Jorge, cancer survivor.
Your treatment will depend on what is best for you. Some cancers respond better to surgery, others respond better to chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Knowing the type of cancer you have is the first step in knowing the type of treatment that is best for you.
The stage of your cancer will also help your doctor determine the best treatment for you. Stage 3 or 4 cancer is prone to responding to treatments that reach the entire body, such as chemotherapy.
Your health, as well as your preferences, also influences the selection of the best cancer treatment. Not all types of treatment will be effective for your cancer, so you should make sure that you are informed of all your options. Also, treatments have side effects; Find out what to expect with each treatment.
Don't be afraid to ask questions. It is your right to know which treatments may help you the most and what the side effects might be.