Finding out you have cancer brings many changes for you and your loved ones. You probably have lots of questions:
- Can it be cured?
- What are the best treatment options?
- Will treatment hurt or make me feel bad?
- How long will treatment take?
- Will I have to stay in a hospital?
- Will I be able to keep my job?
- How much will cancer treatment cost?
Here, we answer many questions about cancer and cancer treatment. We also tell you what you can expect from the people and services that are there to help you cope with cancer. To help you prepare for visits with your health care team, we offer ideas for questions you may want to ask. We hope this information will help you and your family as you work through your fears and concerns about cancer and cancer treatment.
Please keep in mind that this is not meant to replace the advice of your doctor or nurse. Talking with them is the best way to understand what’s going on with your body and how treatment will work.
What is cancer?
a group of diseases which cause cells in the body to change and grow out of control. Most types of cancer cells form a lump or mass called a tumor. (Not all tumors are cancer. A tumor that is not cancer is called benign, while a cancerous tumor is called malignant.) A cancerous tumor can invade and destroy healthy tissue. Cells from the cancer can break away and travel to other parts of the body. There they can continue to grow. This spreading process is called metastasis. When cancer spreads, it is still named after the part of the body where it started. For example, if colon cancer spreads to the liver, it is still colon cancer, not liver cancer.
Benign tumors do not grow and spread the way cancer does. They are usually not a threat to life. Note that some types of cancer, such as blood cancers, do not form tumors. They can still threaten life by crowding out normal cells. See also benign, malignant, metastasis, tumor.
How did I get cancer?
Nearly 1 out of 3 people in the United States will have cancer during their lifetimes.
Cancer can happen at any age, but nearly 9 out of 10 cancers are diagnosed in people ages 50 and older. People of all racial and ethnic groups can get cancer.
The first question that comes up for many people with cancer is, “What did I do wrong?” or “Why me?” Because doctors don’t know for sure what causes cancer in most cases, many people come up with their own ideas about why they have it.
Some people believe they’re being punished for something they did or didn’t do in the past. Most people wonder if they did something to cause the cancer. Some think that if they had done something differently, they could have prevented it.
If you’re having these thoughts, you’re not alone. They are common among people with cancer. But cancer isn’t a punishment for things you did or didn’t do. Don’t blame yourself. It’s painful, and it rarely helps. It’s almost never possible to know exactly what caused the cancer. Focus instead on taking good care of yourself now – both your body and your mind.
Did I cause my cancer?
We don’t yet know what causes all cancers. We do know that there are certain things called “risk factors” that affect your chance of getting some diseases.
Some risk factors for cancer can be changed and others can’t. Risk factors that can’t be changed include your age, sex, and family history. Things that can be changed are things you do, such as whether you use tobacco or drink alcohol, what you eat, and how much sun you get. Other risk factors are linked to things in the environment that cause cancer.
But risk factors don’t tell us everything. Having a risk factor, or even many risk factors, doesn’t mean that you’ll get cancer. And some people who get cancer may have few or no known risk factors. Even if a person with cancer has a risk factor, it’s very hard to know what part that risk factor may have had in causing the cancer.
Can cancer be inherited?
Some cancers can run in families, but cancer isn’t passed on from parent to child the same way that height and eye color are. While some cancers do have genetic risk factors, most people with cancer didn’t inherit it, nor do they pass it on to their children.