Cancer 101

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Understanding and Managing Cancer

Cancer begins in cells, the building blocks that form tissues. Tissues make up the organs of the body.

Normally, cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When cells grow old, they die, and new cells take their place.

Sometimes, this orderly process goes wrong. New cells form when the body does not need them, and old cells do not die when they should. These extra cells can form a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor.

Benign vs. Malignant Tumors

There are two types of tumors: benign tumors, which are not cancerous, and malignant tumors, which are cancerous.

For additional information about each type of tumor, click below.

Benign Tumors

  • Not cancerous and rarely life-threatening.
  • Can usually be removed and do not grow back.
  • Do not invade surrounding tissues or spread to other parts of the body.

Malignant Tumors

  • Cancerous and can be life-threatening.
  • Can invade and damage nearby tissues and organs.
  • Can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or lymphatic system, forming new tumors.

Cancer cells spread by breaking away from the original (primary) tumor and entering the bloodstream or lymphatic system. The cells can invade other organs, forming new tumors that damage these organs. The spread of cancer is called metastasis.

Types of Cancer

Most cancers are named for where they start. For example, lung cancer starts in the lung, and breast cancer starts in the breast. Lymphoma is cancer that starts in the lymphatic system. And leukemia is cancer that starts in white blood cells (leukocytes).

When cancer spreads and forms a new tumor in another part of the body, the new tumor has the same kind of abnormal cells and the same name as the primary tumor.

For example, if prostate cancer spreads to the bones, the cancer cells in the bones are actually prostate cancer cells. The disease is metastatic prostate cancer, not bone cancer. For that reason, it is treated as prostate cancer, not bone cancer. Doctors sometimes call the new tumor "distant" or metastatic disease.

For more information about a specific cancer type, click below.

Anal Cancer

Bladder Cancer

Bone Cancer

Brain Cancer

Breast Cancer

Cervical Cancer

Childhood Cancer

Colon Cancer

Hereditary Cancer

Kidney Cancer


Liver Cancer

Lung Cancer


Oral Cancer

Pancreatic Cancer

Prostate Cancer

Skin Cancer

Throat Cancer

What Does It Mean to Be Diagnosed with Cancer?

Being diagnosed with cancer can be a very challenging experience, bringing a mix of emotions and uncertainties. It's important to understand what this diagnosis means and what it doesn't.

First and foremost, it means that you have a serious illness that requires immediate attention. The sooner you begin addressing it, the better your chances for a positive outcome. This involves working closely with your healthcare team to develop a treatment plan tailored to your specific condition.

However, it's important to remember what a cancer diagnosis does not mean. It does not mean that you have been handed a death sentence. Advances in medical research and treatment options have significantly improved outcomes for many types of cancer. While the road ahead might be tough, acting quickly and carefully can help manage the disease effectively.

Important Things to Remember

A diagnosis is not a death sentence.

Many people successfully manage and overcome cancer with the right treatment.

It requires immediate attention.

Prompt and careful action is essential for better outcomes.

Your role is essential.

Staying positive, informed, and involved in your care can make a significant difference.

Stages of Cancer

A cancer stage is an expression of how advanced the disease is in the body. Specifically, it refers to the size of the malignant tumor found.

Understanding the stages of cancer can also provide clarity about what your diagnosis entails. Cancer stages range from 0 to 4 and are used to indicate the extent of the disease in the body.

Stage 0

This is a non-invasive cancer, detected early with a small tumor confined to its original location.

Stage 1-3

These stages indicate increasing tumor size and spread to nearby tissues or lymph nodes. Treatment options and prognosis vary based on the specific characteristics of the tumor and its progression.

Stage 4

This is the most advanced stage, where the cancer has spread to distant parts of the body. While this stage is more challenging to treat, there are still many options available that can help manage the disease and improve quality of life.

Feel prepared for every appointment

Carrying the right information can empower you during your cancer care journey. Use these tools to help organize this information so you can be an active participant in your cancer care.

Keep them handy for use at home and bring them along to your doctor visits and other medical appointments.

#KnowCancer Tip

Update your information and checklist after each appointment to keep track of your progress and prepare for your next visit. Being organized is a key step in navigating your cancer care with confidence.

Essentials Checklist

  • Important Contacts: Include your healthcare team's phone numbers and email addresses.
  • Health and Treatment History: A brief summary of your diagnosis, treatment plans, and any past procedures or surgeries.
  • Copies of Reports: Bring recent blood tests, pathology reports, and any other relevant medical records.
  • Calendar: Your schedule of upcoming appointments, treatments, and tests.
  • Progress Notes: Observations about your symptoms, side effects, and any changes in your condition.
  • Questions: A list of questions or concerns you have for your healthcare provider. Don't hesitate to ask anything that's on your mind.
  • Insurance Information: Your insurance card and any necessary authorization forms or documents.

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