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10 Most Often-Asked Questions Regarding Cancer

What is cancer?

According to the national Cancer Institute, cancer is a term used for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and are able to invade other tissues. Cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems.

Cancer is not just one disease but many diseases. There are more than 100 different types of cancer. Most cancers are named for the organ or type of cell in which they start: for example, cancer that begins in the colon is called colon cancer; cancer that begins in melanocytes of the skin is called melanoma.

What causes cancer?

Cells become cancerous when their DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), which serves as a cell’s control center, is damaged. Healthy cells can repair their own DNA, but cancerous cells cannot. Usually, if a cell’s DNA cannot be repaired it will die. When cells are cancerous, the cells continue to live despite their damaged DNA, multiplying rapidly.

Cells with abnormal DNA can be inherited; however, the majority of DNA damage is caused by environmental factors or mistakes that happen as normal cells reproduce. Cancer can affect almost any part of the body.

How do you get cancer?

Scientists study risk factors and protective factors to find ways to prevent new cancers from starting. Anything that increases your chance of developing cancer is called a cancer risk factor; anything that decreases your chance of developing cancer is called a cancer protective factor.

Some risk factors for cancer can be avoided, but many cannot. For example, both smoking and inheriting certain genes are risk factors for some types of cancer, but only smoking can be avoided. Risk factors that a person can control are called modifiable risk factors.

How are cancers grouped?

Cancer types are grouped into broader categories, the main ones being:

  • Carcinoma - cancer that begins in the skin or in tissues that line or cover internal organs. Carcinoma subtypes include adenocarcinoma, basal, squamous cell carcinoma and transitional cell carcinoma.
  • Sarcoma - cancer that begins in bone, cartilage, fat, muscle, blood vessels or other connective or supportive tissue.
  • Leukemia - cancer that starts in blood-forming tissue such as the bone marrow and causes large numbers of abnormal blood cells to be produced and enter the blood.
  • Lymphoma and myeloma - cancers that begin in the cells of the immune system.
  • Central nervous system cancers - cancers that begin in the tissues of the brain and spinal cord.

Where can I find more information?

One online resource is the A.D.A.M. encyclopedia. With 3,900 articles and 3,000 medical illustrations and images, it is one of the world’s largest and continually updated online consumer health information libraries.

Which types of cancer are most common?

The most prevalent types of cancer include colon/rectal, lung, breast and prostate. Lung cancer is the most preventable, with smoking being a major factor. In fact, 19 out of 20 lung cancer patients have a history of smoking. Another risk is exposure to radon, a radioactive gas. Homeowners can reduce their risk of lung cancer by having their house tested for radon and installing a radon reduction system if necessary.

Colon/rectal and breast cancer are also affected by lifestyle. Red meat and smoked food contribute to colon/rectal cancer, while a diet high in fat increases the risk of breast cancer. Some medications may reduce the risk of common cancers.

Are there any developments in the prevention of these cancers?

Aspirin has been shown to lower the risk of colon/rectal cancer. In large-scale clinical trials, the drugs Tamoxifen and Raloxifene have considerably reduced the incidence of breast cancer in high-risk women. Additionally, Finasteride has been shown to reduce the risk of prostate cancer.

How can I find a community cancer screening near me?

ProMedica Cancer Institute offers free cancer screenings on a regular basis throughout our community. Please view the ProMedica cancer events calendar to learn about available screenings.

What is oncology?

Oncology is the branch of medicine that deals with cancer. There are many different types of oncologists. Surgical oncologists specialize in the surgical removal of tumors. Medical oncologists focus on treating cancer medically with treatments such as chemotherapy. Radiation oncologists specialize in treating cancer with radiation. ProMedica Physicians work closely with the ProMedica Cancer Institute to ensure the availability of outstanding oncologists and programs.

Find an expert ProMedica oncology doctor

What role does tobacco use play in cancer?

Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of death in the United States, significantly contributing to heart attack, stroke, several types of cancers and other chronic diseases. Because ProMedica cares about your long-term health and well-being, we encourage everyone who smokes or uses other tobacco products to kick the habit. In fact, all ProMedica campuses are tobacco-free, indoors and outdoors. ProMedica Tobacco Treatment Services offers a variety of tools and programs to help you stop using tobacco products, including individual and group counseling sessions.

Learn more about smoking cessation

View tobacco group cessation schedule

Cancer Toolkit

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Cancer Events

View a list below of cancer events, including survivor celebrations and screenings, which are offered at locations throughout ProMedica.

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