Learn About Cancer
The term “cancer” refers to a group of diseases in which cells have uncontrolled growth and spread throughout your body. It is difficult to imagine anyone who has not heard about this disease. Most people have been affected because either a loved one, a friend, or even they themselves are cancer survivors. It’s important for you to have a basic understanding about the nature, diagnosis, causes, prevention and treatment of cancer.
Cancer detection and diagnosis
Detecting cancer early can affect your health in the future – you may hear doctors refer to this as your outcome. When cancer is found, a doctor will determine what type it is and how fast it is growing. He or she also will determine whether cancer cells have invaded nearby healthy tissue or spread (metastasized) to other parts of your body. In some cases, finding cancer early may decrease your risk for dying from the cancer. For this reason, improving our methods for early detection is a high priority for cancer researchers.
Don't wait to feel pain before getting checked for cancer, because cancer does not always have symptoms. Some people visit the doctor only when they notice changes like a lump in the breast or unusual bleeding or discharge. However, early cancer may not have any symptoms. That is why screening for some cancers can help, particularly as you get older. Screening methods are designed to check for cancer in people with no symptoms.
Tumor grading and staging
Microscopic examination also provides your doctor with information about the likely behavior of a tumor and its responsiveness to treatment. Cancers with highly abnormal cell appearance and large numbers of dividing cells tend to grow more quickly, spread to other organs more frequently and be less responsive to therapy than cancers whose cells have a more normal appearance. Based on these differences in microscopic appearance, doctors assign a numerical "grade" to most cancers. In this grading system, a low number grade (grade I or II) refers to cancers with fewer cell abnormalities than those with higher numbers (grade III or IV).
After cancer has been diagnosed, doctors ask the following three questions to determine how far the disease has progressed:
1. How large is the tumor and how far has it invaded into surrounding tissues?
2. Have cancer cells spread to nearby (regional) lymph nodes?
3. Has the cancer spread (metastasized) to other regions of your body?
Based on the answers to these questions, the cancer is assigned a "stage." Your chances for survival are better when cancer is detected at a lower stage number.
When you choose Lehigh Valley Health Network for your cancer care, you will benefit from our advanced resources to fight your cancer.