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Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body. These cells can spread to parts of the body through the lymph system, which plays an important role in the body’s immune system, and through blood.

There are more than 100 types of cancer. Most cancers are named for the organ or type of cell within which they start. For example, cancer that begins in the lung is called lung cancer; cancer that begins the colon is called colon cancer.

Some cancers grow slowly, while others grow and spread quickly. If, and how much, the cancer has spread determines the stage of the cancer. Generally, a lower stage (1 or 2) means that the cancer has not spread very much. A higher stage (3 or 4) means the cancer has spread more. Stage 4 is the highest stage.

Different types of treatment work best depending on the type and the stage of the cancer.

Common treatments for cancer include surgery, chemotherapy (key-mo-THER-uh-pee; sometimes shorted to “chemo”), and radiation (ray-dee-A- shun).

Surgery is used to take out the cancer, or some or all of the affected part of the body. For prostate cancer, for example, the prostate gland might be taken out. Surgery is not used for all types of cancer. Blood cancers like leukemia are treated with drugs.

Chemo is the use of drugs to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells. Chemo helps treat cancer that has spread because chemo drugs travel through the body. Some chemo comes in the form of a pill. Other chemo is given by IV (through a needle into a vein).

Radiation is also used to kill cancer cells or slow their growth. Radiation can be used on its own or in combination with surgery or chemo. Treatment with radiation is similar to getting an x-ray. Sometimes a “seed” is put inside the cancer that gives off the radiation treatment.

Dealing with cancer comes with a range of emotions. It can be scary, overwhelming and confusing. Remember, depending on the type and stage, many cancers are treatable.

Here are several tips for patients who are newly diagnosed with cancer:

  1. Ask questions. It’s your body – and your health. So never be afraid to ask questions. Here are five questions to ask your doctor about cancer and treatment:
    • What type of cancer do I have?
    • What stage is the cancer?
    • What treatment options are most likely to help?
    • What are the side effects of each option?
    • What additional resources and support do you recommend?
  2. Take notes. You may feel overwhelmed by the information you receive. Take notes. If possible, have a loved one join you to take notes as well.
  3. Organize. Create a system to organize and easily access paperwork such as medical documents, insurance documents, and your own notes.
  4. Prepare for appointments. Write down questions you have. Create checklists. Bring a list of medications you take including dosage and prescribing doctor information.
  5. Communicate with your doctor. Let your doctor know what you are experiencing so he or she can help provide you with support and resources that can help.
  6. Remember you are not alone. Support is available. Talk to your doctor about support groups, wellness programs and counseling. Resources are available for caregivers too!