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Conquer Cancer Health News

Information for Cancer Patients PART III in a Series

How is cancer usually discovered?

Cancer is usually found either by a physician or health care provider during a routine check-up. Sometimes a person will notice a warning signal and seek medical attention.

What are "cancer's warning signals"?

The seven warning signals are:
1) any change in bowel or bladder habits
2) a sore that does not heal
3) unusual bleeding or discharge
4) thickening or a lump in the breast (or elsewhere)
5) indigestion or difficulty in swallowing
6) an obvious change in a wart or mole
7) a nagging cough or persistent hoarseness

What should be done if you notice a warning signal?

Seek medical attention as soon as possible. If cancer is present, early detection will greatly increase your chances of successful treatment.

Is pain an early indication of cancer?

No. It is usually a late symptom of cancer.

What is the next step when cancer is suspected?

Your physician will order tests to be done, possibly including a biopsy in which a sample of a tumor is removed and examined under a microscope. The doctor may refer you to a cancer specialist; an oncologist.

How is cancer usually treated today?

The most common method of treatment for most cancers is surgery. Typically, the tumor is removed, as well as a large area of surrounding tissue. Sometimes the entire organ involved, as well as nearby lymph nodes, is removed. This is done to prevent the cancer from spreading. Surgery may be followed by radiation therapy (RT) and/or chemotherapy.

When is radiation used?

Radiation therapy (RT) is the second most common method of treating cancer. Depending on the type and location of the tumor, RT may be used as the primary method of treatment for a number of cancers. Sometimes RT is used to shrink a tumor prior to surgery. RT can also be used to prolong life or make it more comfortable by relieving pain, healing sores, and reducing persistent bleeding.

What are the side effects of RT?

It depends on the where the radiation is directed. Some patients experience diarrhea, difficulty in swallowing, mouth sores, loss of sense of taste and loss of appetite. Medications and special diets can be helpful, and most symptoms will disappear after completion of therapy. The radiation oncologist will give instructions to the patient on how to minimize these side effects.

When is chemotherapy used?

Chemotherapy, the use of chemicals, is used to attack cancer cells that are not within practical reach of surgery or radiation therapy, or to destroy the cancer still remaining after those procedures. More than 50 different chemotherapy agents now exist, and new drugs and new uses for them are constantly being discovered.

How are hormones used to fight cancer?

Sometimes hormones are given to the patient, such as estrogen for prostate cancer or testosterone for breast cancer, and sometimes hormones are withdrawn from the patient by surgically removing hormone-producing organs.

Does chemotherapy always produce unpleasant side effects?

Often, but not always. Side effects vary with the specific medication used, the frequency of administration, and the dose given. It is important to remember that the side effects disappear after treatment is completed.

Source: Answering Your Questions About Cancer, American Cancer Society

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