Cancer

Cancer is the catchall term applied to diseases caused by the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells. Cancer isn't one disease. It is many different diseases, more than 100 and counting.

Each kind of cancer is usually named for the cell type in which it begins — cancer that starts in a lung is called lung cancer; cancer that starts in pigment cells in the skin, which are known as melanocytes, is called melanoma.

When detected and treated early, cancer can often be stopped. That said, cancer is a leading cause of death and disability around the world.

Cancer Articles

Finding lung cancer early

Screening people for lung cancer ought to work. Lung cancer is common, relative to other cancers, so you're not looking for a needle in a haystack. If it's caught at a very early stage, it often can be treated effectively with surgery and even cured. Current and former smokers are easy to identify, so focusing on a high-risk group is pretty straightforward. And the technological means to spot suspicious growths and lesions in the lungs has existed for decades with chest x-rays and CT scans  Screening tests are supposed to find diseases before they cause symptoms, but that is just the means to an end. The goal is for fewer people to die from the disease. Several large, well-designed trials of chest x-rays have found that while they do a good job of identifying early lung cancers, that hasn't translated into fewer deaths because by the time an x-ray detects lung cancer it has almost always already spread to other parts of the body. CT scanning can spot lung cancer at an earlier stage than chest x-rays. But can they spot lung cancer early enough, before it has spread, and when it is still curable?  The jury has been out because of the size and design of studies that have been done so far. It takes a very large, well-designed study to get a reliable answer. More »

Lung cancer: Not just for smokers

A small but significant percentage of lung cancer deaths occur in nonsmokers. Research suggests that they may get a different form of the disease than do smokers, one that may respond better to certain medications. More »

The cervical cancer vaccine

A vaccine aims to prevent cervical cancer by fighting the strains of human papillomavirus that cause it. The CDC recommends the vaccine be given before puberty, because it is more effective if received before exposure to HPV. More »

Recognizing and treating basal cell carcinoma

With summer around the corner, our thoughts and plans naturally turn to outdoor activities and the opportunity to bask in the warmth of the sun. But there's a dark side to the time we spend in the sun — it's called a tan. Despite its association with prosperity, good looks, and good health, a tan in reality is a sign that the sun has damaged the skin cells. For some people, such damage can result in skin cancer. The sun is the chief cause of more than 1.3 million skin cancers each year in the United States. There are three main types. Melanoma is probably the most familiar — not because it's common but because it's so deadly. It accounts for only 4% of skin cancers but 75% of skin cancer deaths. A second type, squamous cell carcinoma, occurs three times more often than melanoma. Although it's less serious, it can metastasize and cause extensive damage. About 3%–4% of people with squamous cell carcinoma die from the disease. By far the most common skin cancer, and the subject of this article, is basal cell (Locked) More »

Pancreatic cancer: Symptoms, treatment, and prevention

Hard to detect and quick to spread, pancreatic cancer is among the deadliest of cancers. Scientists hope that genetic research will make it more like other cancers-a treatable disease. But even if it's caught while confined to the pancreas-and it rarely is-just 16% of patients are alive five years after the initial diagnosis. By comparison, the five-year survival rate for localized breast cancer is 86%. If the cancer has spread beyond the pancreas, the likelihood of living another five years is just 2%. Only the statistics for liver cancer are as grim. Fortunately, pancreatic cancer is uncommon compared with other major cancers. About 50,000 new cases are diagnosed every year in the United States, in contrast to about 250,000 new cases of breast cancer, and 225,000 new cases of lung cancer. But because it's so untreatable, pancreatic cancer causes about 40,000 deaths each year. It is the 4th leading cause of cancer death. No one knows exactly what causes pancreatic cancer. Like many cancers, it's an older person's disease - the median age at diagnosis is 71. Because Americans are living longer, there are more cases now than a half-century ago. Pancreatic cancer does run in families. Former President Jimmy Carter's father, brother, and two sisters died of the disease. Familial cases account for 5%-15% of the total. More »

When You Visit Your Doctor - After Hodgkin's Disease Treatment

Have you had fevers, heavy sweating at night, weight loss, itchy skin, or swollen lymph nodes? Do you have pain in any of your bones? Do you have a cough? Are you fatigued? Do you get lightheaded? Do you bruise easily or have nosebleeds? Do your gums bleed when you brush your teeth? Have you had any recent infections? Do you have a cough? Do you have sinus congestion? Do you have nasal discharge? Do you know when to seek medical attention for signs of infection? Do you know that you still need to practice birth control (both men and women)? Infertility is uncommon with newer chemotherapy regimens. If you are a woman and have undergone early menopause, have you considered hormone replacement therapy? Are you short of breath at rest or with minimal exertion? Do you get chest pain or pressure with exertion? Do you have swelling in your legs? Do you know that chemotherapy and radiation can increase your risk of developing certain other cancers? Are you up-to-date on all of your cancer screening tests? If you are a woman, have you discussed the need for regular mammograms and breast examinations with your doctor? Are you gaining weight? Are you constipated? Are you always cold? Do you have dry skin? Neck veins Heart Lungs Abdomen (for enlargement or tenderness of the liver or spleen) Bones and spine (looking for areas of tenderness) Skin (looking for skin cancers) Lymph Nodes (neck, axilla, elbow, groin) Blood tests for complete blood counts, kidney and liver function tests CT scans of the chest and abdomen   More »

When You Visit Your Doctor - Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)

Have you had fevers, chills, fatigue, or weight loss? Have you had any recent infections? Do you have a cough? Do you have sinus congestion? Do you know when to seek medical attention for infections? Do your gums bleed when you brush your teeth? Have you had nosebleeds or easy bruising? Do you get short of breath with minimal exertion? Are you lightheaded? Have you been unusually tired? Have you had abdominal pain or swelling? Have you noticed swollen lymph nodes? Lymph nodes (neck, axilla, groin) Heart Lungs Abdomen (for enlargement or tenderness of the liver or spleen) Complete blood count Routine blood chemistries Immunoglobulin levels Blood test for flow cytometry Bone marrow biopsy.   More »

When You Visit Your Doctor - Colonic Polyps

Do you have a family history of colonic polyps? Do you have bleeding from the rectum or bloody stools? Do you frequently have rectal pain or the sensation of needing to have a bowel movement? Do you have anemia (low blood count)? Do you have a family history of colon cancer? Abdominal exam Rectal exam Stool testing for blood Complete blood count Sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy, possibly with a biopsy or removal of a polyp (if one is found)   More »

When You Visit Your Doctor - Multiple Myeloma

Have you had any recent infections? Do you know when to call your doctor with symptoms of infection? Do you have pain in any of your bones? If so, is it constant, or does it occur only when you move? Have you had any recent fractures? Do you have pain in your spine? Does it radiate to another part of your body? Have you noticed a decrease in sensation or strength in your hands or feet? Have you had loss of bladder or bowel control? Do you know when to seek medical attention for back pain? Have you been fatigued? Have you been lightheaded? Have you been short of breath with minimal exertion? Do your gums bleed when you brush your teeth? Do you bruise easily, or get nosebleeds? Have you been weak, nauseated, constipated, or confused? Have you had a headache or a change in your vision? Can you feel any lumps or masses under your skin? Are you aware of the possible complications that can develop from multiple myeloma? Do you know which symptoms should cause you to call your doctor? Skin Heart Lungs Arms and legs Spine Neurology examination (to check for strength and sensation in your hands and feet) Lymph nodes (neck, axilla, and groin) Blood tests for complete blood count, electrolytes, kidney function, uric acid, calcium, and beta-2 microglobulin Serum protein electrophoresis or SPEP Urine protein electrophoresis or UPEP Quantitative immunoglobulin levels in the urine and blood Immunoelectrophoresis 24-hour urine collection for protein Bone marrow biopsy Skeletal radiographs CT scan MRI scan   More »