Frequently Asked Questions

What is cancer?

First of all, it is important to understand that cancer is a very diverse group of many diseases which affect our body. To understand this, one must understand that our body is made up of many different types of cells which normally grow, divide and produce more cells as the older cells die. Occasionally, this process becomes unregulated and cells begin to divide even when new cells are not needed. This group of extra cells forms a tumor.

Tumors are being classified as being benign or malignant. Benign tumors are not necessarily what we often consider to be cancer. They can usually be removed and in most cases will not come back. The most important distinction about benign tumors is that the cells of these tumors do not spread to other parts of the body. While benign tumors are rarely fatal, they can occasionally cause severe complications. Malignant tumors on the other hand are what many generally consider to be cancer. Tumor cells in malignant tumors can break away and spread to other parts of the body which is known as metastasizing. Once these cells have metastasized to other parts of the body, they can grow and form tumors in these other regions.

What are some of the common signs and symptoms associated with cancer?

This is a somewhat difficult question to answer secondary to the fact that tumors in various parts of the body cause different side effects. Some of the most common signs and symptoms of cancer are listed below and are derived from screening data and warning signs of the American Cancer Society.

  • Change in bowel or bladder habits.
  • A sore or ulcer which does not heal.
  • Unusual bleeding or discharge from the rectum or vagina.
  • An area of thickening or a lump in the breast or any other part of the body.
  • Severe indigestion or difficulty swallowing.
  • An obvious and dramatic change in a skin lesion such as a wart or a mole.
  • A persistent bothersome cough or the development of chronic hoarseness.

While these symptoms do not represent all symptoms which can be associated with cancer, they are the most common warning signs noted. If you develop any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor immediately.

Is there a way to prevent cancer?

Over the last few decades, science has learned a great deal regarding the causes of many types of cancer. Unfortunately, however, not all cancers are related to things that we have day to day control over. First and foremost, many cases of cancer seen in this country could be avoided by abstaining from the utilization of tobacco products. Skin cancers are also the most common cancers in this country and could be avoided by staying out of the sun or utilizing sun screen to prevent sunburns. Studies have also shown that eating foods with less fat and more fiber will lower the risk of many different types of cancer. Finally, alcohol abuse and exposure to other chemicals can certainly increase ones risk of developing cancer and should be utilized in moderation.

What are the various methods of treating cancer?

Cancer today is treated with a variety of different options and depends upon the location and type of cancer. Methods utilized today includes surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, and biological therapy. Often, many of these methods are used in combination and again this depends on the type of cancer, the location, the extent and the patient’s age and general health. Each individual case requires individual management.

Is there a link to tobacco utilization and cancer?

Cigarette smoking is clearly the most significant cause of lung cancer and the leading cause of lung cancer death in both men and women in the United States. It is also well known that smoking is responsible for the majority of cancers which develop in the voice box (larynx), the mouth (oral cavity), and the esophagus. There has also been a clear link established between the utilization of tobacco and the development of bladder, kidney, pancreatic, and cervical cancers.

What is in tobacco that causes cancer?

Tobacco smoke has been thoroughly analyzed in many scientific studies. These studies have found that tobacco smoke contains thousands of chemical agents. In these thousands of chemicals, there are at least sixty substances which are known to cause cancer. Unfortunately, tobacco smoke also contains nicotine which is quickly absorbed in the bloodstream and travels to the brain. Nicotine is an extremely addictive drug with addiction rates similar to those of heroin and cocaine. This addiction locks people into the habit of smoking.

Is there any risk of non-smokers being around smokers?

This has been a hotly debated topic for many years. It is now well known that the health risks that are associated with tobacco smoke are not limited only to smokers. Secondhand exposure to tobacco smoke will significantly increase a non-smokers risk of developing lung cancer. Secondary to this fact, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a report in 1992 classifying secondhand smoke as a group A carcinogen or cancer causing agent. Group A is a category reserved for only the most dangerous cancer causing agents. It is well known that secondhand smoke is responsible for lung cancers in several thousand non-smokers each year in this country and that secondhand smoke has also been linked to severe respiratory problems in infants, young children, and adults.

What are alternative and complimentary types of medicine?

Alternative and complimentary medicines include a very broad range of treatments. These range from different philosophies, different approaches, and different therapies in the management of cancer. A treatment is called an alternative treatment when it is used instead of conventionally accepted and proven treatment regimes for cancer. Complimentary therapies on the other hand are used in addition to these conventional treatments. The main purpose of alternative and complimentary therapies is to prevent illness, reduce the levels of stress, and attempt to reduce the side effects and symptoms associated with cancer treatment. Some very commonly used methods of alternative and complimentary medicine include intervention programs for mind and body control such as visualization exercises or relaxation exercises, manual healing techniques such as acupuncture, acupressure, and massage, and vitamin and herbal treatment regimes.

What is radiation therapy and how does it work?

Radiation therapy is the specialty of delivering high energy x-rays to treat tumors. These x-rays basically damage the DNA of cancer cells through multiple different mechanisms leading to the eventual death of cancer cells. Radiation therapy can be delivered in many different forms, however, the most common forms are known as external beam radiation therapy which involves the external delivery of x-rays in a similar manner to obtaining a chest x-ray and brachytherapy which is the process of implanting radioactive elements into the tumor on either a permanent or temporary basis.

What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy, utilized in the specialty known as medical oncology, is the utilization of chemicals in a systemic fashion to treat cancer. Most chemotherapy drugs effectively destroy cancer cells by interfering with their process of reproduction through various different mechanisms. Chemotherapy drugs can be administered in either a pill form or through an IV infusion depending upon the drug which is being utilized.