General Cancer Information 

Cancer is a scary term that no one wants to hear when discussing their health or a family member’s health. However, cancer is very prevalent and affects many people. Therefore, it is important to be educated about cancer, and types of cancers. Several different types of cancers will be discussed in this section, but please note this is not a comprehensive list of cancers. Treatments and diagnosis depend on cancer type. See each subsection for more information on specific cancers. 

How does cancer occur?

Normal cells in our bodies have proto-oncogenes which control the lifecycle of our cells. If there is a mutation (a change) in the proto-oncogenes then it becomes oncogenes. If a cell has oncogenes, then it can become cancerous and duplicate at a high rate. Our normal cells also have tumor suppressor genes, which as implied suppress the chance of tumor growth. Tumor suppressor genes fix mistakes in DNA, determine when a cell duplicates, and when a cell dies. If cells lack the tumor suppressor gene, then they can duplicate at high rates and continue with DNA errors. Some cancers, or gene mutations, can be inherited from parents. In addition environmental factors, social history, medications, and past medical history can all play a role in cancer development. 

Cancer Stages Most cancers have four stages of progression. The stage depends on the size and location of the cancer. Stage l: The cancer is located in one specific area and has not entered the bloodstream, lymph nodes, or migrated to other tissues. Stage ll: The cancer has grown in size, but has not spread from the original location. Stage lll: The cancer has now grown even larger in size, and has begun to spread in the lymph nodes, or other tissues. Stage lV: This stage is often referred to as metastatic or advanced cancer. At this stage, the cancer has spread to other areas or organs in the body.

The 5 main types of cancer

Carcinoma: Affects organs and glands, such as breast or skin. The most common type of cancer

Sarcoma: affects soft or connective tissue, such as bone or blood vessels

Melanoma: Develop in the cells that pigment skin (make skin the color it is)

Lymphoma: Affects lymphocytes or white blood cells 

Leukemia: affects blood 

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Learn more about Cancer’s impact on our community HERE.

What is Breast Cancer?

As the name implies, breast cancer is a cancer that begins in the breast. The cancer can begin in any part of the breast. Contrary to belief, even though it is not common breast cancer can occur in males as well. As the cancer cells grow and reproduce they can enter the bloodstream or lymph nodes and travel to other parts of the body. Commonly, breast cancer cells will continue to grow and spread throughout breast tissue and then enter the lymph nodes located under the armpit. The lymph nodes are part of the immune system, and circulate throughout the body. Therefore, the breast cancer cells can travel throughout the body via the lymph system. 


Breast cancer is caused by a genetic abnormality in the genes of an individual. This is when the cancer cells grow rapidly, without control from the genes due to a mutation (see general cancer for more information). Breast cancer is known to be about 10% heredity from parents. The other 90% of breast cancers occur due to gene changes that are still being researched and identified by scientists. 

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosis of breast cancer is commonly done by diagnostic mammograms, which is like an x-ray of the breast. Other diagnostics include ultrasounds to look at the inside of the breast. In addition, an MRI screen can be done to take detailed pictures of the breast. A biopsy is when tissue or fluid is removed from the breast and looked at closely under a microscope for abnormalities. 

Treatment for breast cancer involves multiple options, and is dependent on the individual and their stage of cancer. One option is surgery, where the doctor surgically removes the cancerous tissue. Chemotherapy and radiation can be used to kill breast cancer cells. Hormonal therapy is used to prevent cancer cells from getting the hormones they need to grow. There are several clinical trials out there that explore new drugs and treatments. The patient and doctor will work together to see if the clinical trial is possible for the patient. 


There are prevention methods that may lower the risk of developing breast cancer, but there is no way to eliminate the risk completely. Yearly mammograms should be started once a woman is in her 40s, or unless advised sooner by the doctor. If there is a family history of breast cancer, a patient should let their doctor know. An additional step is to self-examine breasts for lumps. Self-examinations can be done by lying on a flat surface and using fingertips to move around the whole breast and feel for lumps or changes in tissue. If a lump is noticed, the individual should let their doctor know. However, something important to keep in mind is that not every lump is a true lump, and most lumps end up being benign (not cancerous and not harmful). So although self-examinations can help notice changes, this is not a diagnostic tool.

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What is Colorectal Cancer?

Colorectal cancer is cancerous cells that form in either colon or the rectum. The two types of cancers are often grouped into one word because they are very similar. Colon cancer occurs when cancerous cells develop in the large intestine portion of the digestive system. Whereas, rectal cancer develops in the rectum. Colorectal cancers often begin as a growth in the lining of the colon or rectum, these growths are called polyps. It is important to note here that not all polyps are cancerous, and further testing will need to be done if the doctor is concerned about polyp. There are different types of polyps, some that lead to cancer and some that are non-cancerous. Your doctor will determine the type of polyp. 


Doctors have not been able to determine exactly what causes colorectal cancer. However, there are some risk factors that may increase an individual’s chance of developing colorectal cancer. Risk factors include older age, African-American race, a previous history of polyps(rather cancerous or non-cancerous), inflammatory intestinal conditions (such as Crohn’s disease), family history, low-fiber diet, high-fat diet, poor exercise, diabetes, obesity, smoking, or alcohol consumption. 

Diagnosis & Treatment?

Diagnostic testing for colorectal cancer can be done as a prevention screening for healthy people, or testing for cancer. One diagnostic test is a colonoscopy, which is when doctors use a slender tube with a camera to examine the colon and rectum. If needed, doctors will take tissue for biopsy, and will remove polyps. Blood tests can also be performed to indicate any possible abnormalities. 

Treatment can be surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, target drug therapy, immunotherapy, or supportive care. Treatment plan will determine the stage of cancer, and doctor recommendation. Surgery for early colorectal cancer can be removing polyps via colonoscopy, or a minimal surgery to remove polyps that were unable to be removed in colonoscopy. Surgery in more advanced colorectal cancer can be a partial colectomy or lymph node removal. In addition, surgeons may be unable to properly reattach healthy tissue due to cancer and have to place an ostomy bag on the patient. The ostomy bag may be temporary or permanent, and is a small bag on the abdomen wall that allows for stool collection. 


One common form of colorectal cancer prevention is colon cancer screening. On average, doctors recommend beginning colon cancer screening at age 50. However, some may need to be tested sooner, depending on risk factors and history. Talk with your doctor to see when you should begin colon cancer screening. Additional prevention methods include adopting a regular exercise routine, eating more fiber (such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains), quitting smoking, and drinking alcohol in moderation. 

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What is Liver cancer?

Liver cancer is when cancerous cells grow out of control in the liver. The main type of cancer that happens in the liver is hepatocellular carcinoma. This type of cancer develops in the main cells of the liver, called hepatocytes. Additional forms of liver cancer that are more rare include intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (cancer in the bile duct), angiosarcoma, and hemangiosarcoma. Hepatoblastoma is a rare form of cancer that develops in children. An estimated 2 out of 3 child patients with this cancer have successful surgical treatment. Not every tumor or mass found on the liver is cancerous, in fact there are benign (non-cancerous) liver tumors that generally cause no serious harm. 



There are several risk factors that can lead to a liver cancer diagnosis, however there is no identified specific cause for liver cancer. For some patients there may be a known cause of liver cancer, such as a chronic hepatitis B or hepatitis C infection. Some other risk factors that may lead to a liver cancer diagnosis are cirrhosis of the liver, inherited liver diseases (such as hemochromatosis), diabetes, non alcoholic fatty liver disease, or excessive alcohol consumption that will damage the liver over time. Another risk factor for liver cancer is exposure to the chemical aflatoxins, which can be found on crops that were not stored properly.


Diagnosis and treatment?

Diagnostic testing for liver cancer includes blood work to look for liver changes, imaging, or biopsies. Imaging tests that may be completed are an ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI scan. A biopsy of liver tissue is done through a thin needle that doctor’s insert through your skin and into the liver. Doctors will then determine stage, after liver cancer diagnosis. 

Treatment options for liver cancer are surgery, localized treatments, radadition, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or supportive care. Surgery options may need to remove the tumor of the liver if liver function is still good, if not doctors may need to perform a liver transplant. Localized treatments include heating or freezing cells to kill cancerous cells, injecting pure alcohol into the tumor to cause cancer cells to die, injecting chemotherapy directly into the liver, and placing radiation directly into the liver via small beads. 



One prevention method is to obtain the hepatitis B vaccine, to prevent the chance of developing disease. Safety measures for hepatitis C prevention can also reduce the chance of liver cancer. Prevention of Hepatitis C include knowing the sexual health of your partner to see fi they are infected with either hepatitis B or C, do no use IV drugs, do not use a dirty needle, and when receiveing a tattoo or piercing make sure all ionstruments are sterile and clean as well as the shop. If you become infected with hepatitis B or C make sure you seek medical advice and treatment from a physician. In addition, prevention methods that can be used to reduce the chance of liver cancer are to eat a healthy and well-balanced diet, regular exercise, avoid excessive alcohol consumption, seek treatment for liver diseases, and avoid exposure to toxic chemicals. 

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What is Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer is a form of cancer that begins in the lungs, and is one of the leading causes of cancer deaths. Lung cancer cells can spread to other tissues or organs through the blood or lymph system. In addition, cancers from other parts of the body can travel to the lungs. Just like other cancers, lung cancer occurs when the cancer cells grow rapidly and out of control. There are two main types of lung cancer that are non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer. 


Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common form of lung cancer. There are three main subtypes of non-small cell lung cancer:

  • Adenocarcinoma – most common form
  • Squamous cell carcinoma – slow growing cancer that usually develops in the airway of the lungs
  • Large Cell Carcinoma – Most uncommon of the three, it is fast growing and more likely to spread throughout the body


Small Cell lung cancer is less common than non-small cell lung cancer. There are two main subtypes of small cell carcinoma:

  • Small cell carcinoma – Most common out of the two
  • Combined small cell carcinoma – less common, can spread fast 



Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. Even a past history of smoking can lead to a lung cancer diagnosis. However, lung cancer can occur in people who have never smoked although it is less likely than those who have smoked. An additional risk factor is secondhand smoke exposure over a long period of time. In addition lung cancer may be caused by family history of lung cancer, exposure to radon gas, exposure to asbestos, previous radiation therapy, or exposure to other carcinogens. 


Diagnosis & Treatment?

Diagnostic tests used to test for lung cancer include x-ray that look for an abnormal mass in lungs or a CT scan that can reveal a more detailed picture of lungs that x-ray can not.  A tissue sample called a biopsy can be done to look for abnormal cells. A biopsy can be conducted in different ways including a bronchoscopy where a doctor puts a narrow tube down your throat and into your lungs. Another biopsy method is a mediastinoscopy where a small cut is made at the bottom of your neck, and surgical tools are used to remove the tissue for biopsy. An additional diagnostic test is if a person is coughing with either mucus or blood production, the production can be looked at under the microscope for cancerous cells. It is important to note here that coughing with blood or mucus production does not indicate a diagnosis of lung cancer, however if you are worried or have additional symptoms you can contact your doctor. 



As with other cancers, there is one specific thing you can do to make sure you don’t develop lung cancer, however there are prevention methods to lower the chances. The most important prevention method is to not smoke, or to quit smoking right away. In addition to that, also avoiding secondhand smoke as much as possible. Another prevention method is to avoid any toxic chemicals. If you work in an area with toxic chemicals, it is important to follow employer safety rules. Additional precautions include a healthy diet and regular exercise. 

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What is Ovarian Cancer?

Ovarian cancer occurs when a group of cancerous cells invade the ovaries. In the female reproductive system there are two ovaries, with one located on each side of the uterus. There are three different types of ovarian cancer:

Epithelial Ovarian Cancer: The most common type. Included serous carcinoma and mucinous carcinoma

Stromal tumors: a rare type, that is usually found in an early diagnosis 

Germ cell tumors: Rare type that occurs at a younger age



There are no specific causes that lead to a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. However, there are a few risk factors that may increase a person’s chances of developing ovarian cancer. The risk factors include older age, inherited genes, family history of ovarian cancer, endometriosis, obesity, hormone replacement to control menopause, age that menstruation ended, and never being pregnant. Again, these are just risk factors and not a diagnosis. 


Diagnosis & Treatment? 

Diagnosis methods of ovarian cancer include a pelvic exam, pap smear, imaging such as a CT, genetic testing, or blood tests for specific cancer antigens for ovarian cancer. In addition, sometimes doctors may need to perform surgery to fully determine if ovarian cancer is present. 

Treatment options for ovarian cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, supportive care, immunotherapy, or hormone therapy. There are a few different surgeries that may be performed to remove ovarian cancer, and these depend on location, size, and type of ovarian cancer. In addition, there are support groups for women with an ovarian cancer diagnosis. 



There is no one-way to prevent diagnosis of ovarian cancer, however there are steps to reduce the possibility of developing ovarian cancer. One of the main prevention steps is to follow-up with an OBGYN for a routine pap smear and to discuss family history of cancer or other health changes. Pap smear’s should be done every 3 years, unless otherwise recommended by your doctor.

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What is Pancreatic Cancer?

Pancreatic Cancer is cancer that begins and develops in the pancreas. The pancreas is known by most as the organ that controls blood sugar. However, the pancreas does more than just that and helps with digestion. There can be cancerous and non-cancerous growths on the pancreas. The most common type of pancreatic cancer is pancreatic adenocarcinoma, which begins in the exocrine cells of the pancreas. Additional less common types of pancreatic cancer are adenosquamous carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, signet ring cell carcinomas, and undifferentiated carcinomas. Another type of cancer found in the pancreas is Ampullary cancer. This cancer forms in the Ampulla, an area between the bile duct and pancreas.



As with other cancers discussed, there is no specific cause of pancreatic cancer. However, there are risk factors that increase an individual’s chance of being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Risk factors include smoking, obesity, diabetes, chronic pancreatitis, age, exposure to chemicals, gender (men are slightly more likely to develop pancreatic cancer), race, family history, genetic syndromes, diet, exercise, coffee consumption, alcohol consumption, or infections. 


Diagnosis & Treatment?

Diagnostic imaging tests can be used to look for pancreatic cancer including CT, MRI, and PET scans. A biopsy may also be done to remove tissue for a closer look for presence of cancerous cells. A blood test may also be performed to look for any abnormalities.  Treatment options are surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation, or supportive care. 



There are some things that can be done to reduce risk of developing pancreatic cancer, however nothing can eliminate the chance of cancer completely. Some things you can do to reduce your chance of developing pancreatic cancer include quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, avoiding alcohol, and properly managing other health conditions such as diabetes. It is best to talk with your doctor and determine your personal risk for pancreatic cancer. 


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What is Prostate Cancer?

Prostate cancer is one the most common cancers among men. The prostate gland is located just below the bladder in a male. When prostate cancer occurs, cancerous cells are accumulating and growing within the prostate gland. There is one major type of prostate cancer, an adenocarcinoma. This is the most common form of prostate cancer. However, there are other rare types of prostate cancer as well including small cell carcinomas, neuroendocrine tumors, transitional cell carcinomas, and sarcomas. Prostate cancerous cells can grow quickly, however they are more likely to develop slowly. Sometimes the cancerous cells in the prostate go unnoticed until a male passes away from another condition and an autopsy is completed. 



There has not been an identifiable specific cause of prostate cancer. However, there are risk factors associated with a male’s increased chance of developing prostate cancer. There are several heredity genes that are linked to a diagnosis of prostate cancer. Additional risk factors are older age, smoking, chemical exposure such as agent orange, STI, inflammation of the prostate, diet, or obesity. In addition, race can also be a risk factor for the development of prostate cancer. Although the reason is unknown, African Americans are more likely to develop prostate cancer.


Diagnosis and Treatment?

You and your doctor will determine your risk for prostate cancer and if you need to have a regular check up. There are a few different types of diagnostic screening for prostate cancer. One exam is a digital rectal exam where your doctor will examine the prostate by entering through the rectum. If the doctor finds any abnormalities then he may send for further testing. Blood testing can also be conducted to look for abnormalities. Additional testing includes an ultrasound, MRI, or biopsy.  

Treatment options will vary based on the stage of prostate cancer and doctor recommendations for your personal case. One treatment option is surgical removal of the prostate. Another treatment option is radiation. Heating or freezing prostate tissue is an option to cause cancer cells to die, however this method is not recommended for everyone and is dependent on your case. Additional treatment options are hormone therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or targeted drug therapy. 



There is no specific thing you can do to eliminate your chance of developing prostate cancer. However, there are steps to decrease the chance of developing prostate cancer. Exercising on a regular basis, maintaining a healthy weight, and eating a healthy diet are all prevention methods to lower the risk of developing prostate cancer. In addition, doctors may recommend daily vitamins. 


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What is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is one of the more prevalent cancers in America. While there are a few other risk factors we will discuss, skin cancer is generally caused by exposure to UV light such as from the sun or a tanning bed. However, there are a few other risk factors we will discuss. The three main types of skin cancer are discussed below. For information on rarer types, such as Kaposi sarcoma, Merkel cell carcinoma, and sebaceous gland carcinoma, please visit

Three main types of skin cancer:

 Melanoma – This is the most serious type of skin cancer. In the skin there are cells called melanocytes that produce melanin, which is what gives our skin and eyes color. Melanoma begins in these melanocyte cells. Melanoma can also rarely occur in the nose or throat. Although serious, melanoma can still be treated effectively.

Basal Cell Carcinoma – Basal cells are located within the skin and are responsible for producing new skin as old skin cells die. Basal cell carcinoma begins in these basal cells. Generally, basal cell carcinoma will appear in areas more exposed to sunlight such as the head, face, and neck. This is one of the most common forms of skin cancer. 

Squamous Cell Carcinoma – This cancer begins in the squamous cells that are in the middle and outer layers of the skin. Squamous cell carcinomas can be treated effectively, however if left untreated can grow and spread to other parts of the body. Cancer cells for this type of cancer can occur anywhere where squamous cells are present. 



Skin cancer occurs due to mutation in cells located within the skin that allow for cancerous cells to grow. One major precursor for skin cancer is ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV exposure can come from tanning beds, booths, or mats and exposure to sunlight. UV light isn’t the sole cause for skin cancer, though, as skin cancer can develop in areas not directly exposed to the sun.

Risk factors for developing skin cancer are fair skin, history of sunburns, excessive sun exposure, living in sunny or high-altitude environments, moles, precancerous lesions, family history of skin cancer, personal history of skin cancer, weak immune system, exposure to radiation, and exposure to certain chemicals like arsenic.


Diagnosis and treatment?

Diagnostic testing by a doctor will begin with an examination of the skin for any suspicious looking spots such as moles or discolorations. If the doctor is concerned, then they may do a skin biopsy. A skin biopsy will be examined further for presence of cancerous cells, and type of skin cancer if applicable. The doctor may need to conduct additional testing for classification and staging of cancer. 

Treatment options for skin cancers are very dependent on the specific type of cancer, shape, and location. A minimal option is freezing precancerous or early cancer cells. Another option is excisional surgery where the doctor removes the portion of skin where cancer is located and the surrounding area to prevent any further growth. Additional, and sometimes more invasive surgeries, may need to be completed if skin cancer is large or in an area that is not easily accessible. Additional treatment options are cryotherapy, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, photodynamic therapy, or biological therapy. 



Many types of skin cancers can actually be prevented. One prevention method is to avoid peak sun hours, which in most places is between 10am and 4pm. Another method is wearing sunscreen year round. A common misconception about UV exposure is that you can not get sunburnt if it is cold or cloudy out. However, that is untrue UV radiation from the sun is still present and sunscreen with at least 15 SPF can help lower the chance of developing skin cancer. An additional tip to decrease sun exposure is to wear protective clothing while being out in the sun such as a hat, sunglasses, or thin long sleeves. A big prevention method is to avoid UV exposure through tanning beds. Even with sunscreen, tanning beds are a high source of UV exposure. 

One tip for early detection of skin cancer is to monitor skin for any changes. Examine all areas of the body for any new moles, discolorations, or bumps. Also, examine existing birthmarks, moles, bumps, and freckles for any new changes in color or shape. If you see any changes in your skin then contact your doctor for further examination. It is important to note here that noty every mole or change is skin cancer, and your doctor will be able to determine that for you. 

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What is Stomach Cancer?

Another common name for stomach cancer is gastric cancer. Stomach cancer is a group of cancerous cells located within the stomach that grow rapidly and out of control. Stages of stomach cancer vary on size and location within the layers of the stomach. Precancerous cells can sometimes cause changes in the stomach that do not cause any symptoms and may go undetected for early diagnosis. Stomach cancer generally develops slowly and over a long period of time. There are two main types of stomach cancer, however there are a few more that are way less common. One of the common types of stomach cancer is intestinal adenocarcinomas, which generally have a better outcome. The other common type is diffuse adenocarcinomas, which generally grow and spread more rapidly. 


There has not been a specific cause of stomach cancer identified. However, there have been some risk factors associated with the chance of developing stomach cancer. Some of the risk factors with diagnosis of stomach cancer are gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), family history of stomach cancer, infection with H.pylori bacteria, gastritis (stomach inflammation), stomach polyps, smoking, obesity, and poor diet. 


Diagnosis & Treatment?

The diagnosis for the stomach can include a few different types of diagnostic testing. One type of diagnostic testing for stomach cancer is an endoscopy performed by your doctor, which is a thin tube with a camera that is inserted through your throat and travels down to the stomach. If necessary, a biopsy of the tissue may also be sampled via endoscopy by the doctor. CT scans, X-rays, or PET scans are all imganging tests that may also be used to look for abnormalities in the stomach. 

Treatment for stomach cancer includes chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, targeted drug therapy that will hopefully cause cancer cells to die, supportive care, and/or surgery. There are multiple types of surgeries to remove stomach cancer including removing early-stage tumors from stomach lining, partial removal of stomach, total removal of stomach, surgery to remove lymph nodes to have them tested for cancer,. Or surgery to help alleviate symptoms. 



As with other cancers discussed, there is no clear prevention step to eliminate the chance of developing stomach cancer. Some of the steps you can take to reduce the risk of developing stomach cancer are to stop smoking, maintain a healthy diet and exercise plan, and discuss your personal risk with your doctor. 


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