We’ve put together a list of frequently asked questions and answers regarding cancer treatment at Outer Banks Health. If you do not find the information you are looking for here, please contact us directly. We are here to help.

Before Treatment

Cancer is a disease in which abnormal cells divide and grow out of control. Cancer cells can invade other tissues and spread across the body.

About half of all men and one-third of all women in the United States will develop cancer at some point in their lifetime. The risk increases with age; about 77% of all cancer is diagnosed in people age 55 and older. Cancer occurs in people of all racial and ethnic groups.

All cancer begins in cells. Normal cells grow, divide to make new cells and then die. Cancer starts when cells in part of the body start to grow out of control. Instead of dying, cancer cells continue to grow and form abnormal cells. These extra, damaged cells often form a mass of tissue called a tumor. It is important to remember that not all tumors are cancerous. In other cases, such as leukemia, the cells don’t form tumors but attack the blood and blood-forming organs and spread through other tissues.

There are more than 100 different types of cancer. The main categories of cancer include:

  • Carcinoma – cancer that begins in the skin or internal organs
  • Sarcoma – cancer that begins in bone, cartilage, muscle, blood vessels or other connective or supportive tissue
  • Leukemia – cancer that starts in blood-forming tissue such as bone marrow
  • Lymphoma – cancer that begins in the cells of the immune system
  • Central nervous system cancers – cancer that begins in the tissues of the brain and spinal cord

Cancer is not contagious. You cannot “catch” it from someone who has it. In fact, cancer patients need the support of family and friends, so don’t be afraid to visit and provide care to them.

Cancer is diagnosed frequently enough that many families have at least a few members who have had the disease. Certain types of cancer do seem to be linked to genes that run in families, but only a small portion – about 5% to 10% – of all cancers are believed to be inherited.

The risk of developing many cancers can be reduced by making healthy lifestyle choices. For example, avoiding tobacco, limiting sun exposure and alcohol consumption, eating healthy foods and being physically active are all ways to decrease your risk.

Cancer screening tests are important to help find cancer early, before it has spread and is most likely to respond to treatment. The American Cancer Society recommends these screening guidelines for most adults. Check with your doctor to see what he or she thinks is best.

If a patient is showing possible symptoms of cancer, their doctor will order more tests, such as x-rays, blood tests or a biopsy.

Sometime cancer will not cause any symptoms, especially early on. And even if you are exhibiting some of the symptoms below, remember that it does not mean that you have cancer. Many other conditions can cause the same signs and symptoms. General signs and symptoms of cancer:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Pain
  • Skin changes
  • Change in bowel or bladder habits
  • Sores that do not heal
  • Unusual bleeding or discharge
  • Thickening or lump in breast or other parts of the body
  • Chronic indigestion or trouble swallowing
  • Nagging cough or hoarseness

Unusual signs and symptoms can indicate that something is not quite right in the body and should be evaluated by a doctor. If these symptoms are in fact warning signs of cancer, your chances of successful treatment and cure are much better if the disease is found early. Cancer that is still small and has not spread to other parts of the body is simpler to treat, especially if it can be removed with surgery.

During Treatment

The most common treatment options for cancer are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Someone with cancer may receive any or all of these treatments. A patient’s specific treatment plan will depend on many factors, such as the type of cancer they have, its stage and the patient’s overall health. Other types of treatment include targeted therapy, stem cell or bone marrow transplant and immunotherapy.

Each type of cancer treatment has the possibility of different side effects. Some may be fairly mild and some rather severe. Different people receiving the same treatment often respond in totally different ways. It’s important to remember that most cancer treatment side effects can be treated. The most common side effects are fatigue, nausea or vomiting, loss of appetite, hair loss and mouth or skin irritation.

After Treatment

To say that a cancer is cured means that treatment has successfully eradicated all traces of cancer and that it will never return. It does not mean that the person will never have cancer again. It is possible that another cancer – even the same type – will develop again at some time in the future. Remission means that the cancer is responding well to treatment or is under control. In a complete remission, all signs and symptoms of the cancer disappear and no cancer cells can be detected with testing. In a partial remission, the cancer shrinks but doesn’t completely disappear. If a patient remains in complete remission for 5 years or more, some doctors will say that the patient is cured.

If you experience any of the following problems, please contact us right away:

  • A pain that persists, especially if it is always in the same place
  • Persistent lumps, bumps or unusual swelling
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Persistent fever or cough
  • Unusual rashes, bleeding or bruising