Cancer develops when abnormal cells in our body begin to cluster and spread. There are actually more than 100 types of cancer that affect different parts of the body and/or blood. The cause of cancer is still unknown, but there are certain factors that increase the risk of cancer, including genetics, prolonged radiation exposure and smoking.
The signs and symptoms of cancer vary depending on the type and location of cancer. In some instances, there are no noticeable signs until the cancer has grown large enough to be detected; however, some signs and symptoms include:
- Back pain
- Changes in the skin
- Changes in bowel habits and bladder function
- Long lasting sores
- Noticeable lumps that are felt through the skin (i.e. in breast, testicle, lymph nodes, etc.)
- Persistent headaches
- Unexplained weight loss
- Jaundice (yellow-looking eyes and skin)
These are just some of symptoms of cancer. It is important to seek a medical evaluation if you notice any of the above signs and symptoms. Early detection is the key to treating any type of cancer.
An oncologist is a physician who focuses on the diagnoses and treatment of cancerous tumors. He or she has graduated from an accredited medical school and completed specialty training as an oncologist and/or hematologist, as well as additional sub-specialty training. Within the field of oncology, there are several sub-specialties, including gynecological oncology, medical oncology and pediatric oncology just to name a few.
Treatment time will vary depending on the type and stage of cancer you have. Your oncologist will work with you individually to develop a personalized treatment plan catered to your specific needs, including an estimated time frame for treatment.
Some cancer treatments, such as certain oral medications, IV chemotherapy, and other injections can be given at home. There are specific instructions that are important to follow to ensure the effectiveness of your treatment. Discuss at-home treatment options with your oncologist. It is also important to verify with your insurance provider if you are eligible for at-home cancer treatment.
Whether delivered orally in pill form or through IV infusion or injections, chemotherapy has one purpose – to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may also be used in conjunction with other cancer treatments such as radiation therapy and surgery.
There are certain side effects that come along with chemotherapy, including hair loss, low red and white blood cell counts, nausea and vomiting just to name a few. We will work with you personally to help manage the side effects of chemotherapy.
Hair loss is a common side effect of chemotherapy due to how the drug attacks fast growing cells. So, while chemotherapy destroys cancer cells, it unfortunately can also affect surrounding healthy cells as well, like hair follicles. The amount of hair you will lose will depend on the type and dosage of the drug given to you based on the type and stage of your cancer.
Radiation therapy is designed to break down the DNA of cancer cells to prevent them from growing and spreading. In most cases, it is a local treatment in that the cancer-fighting drugs are delivered to the targeted cancerous area. While some neighboring healthy cells may be affected, more healthy cells are preserved compared to chemotherapy treatments.
It is common for patients to experience fatigue and dry, itchy and peeling skin as a result of radiation therapy. Depending on the type and location of cancer, other side effects may include:
- Hair loss in the area being treated
- Changes in bladder function
- Nausea and vomiting
- Difficulty swallowing
- Ulcers in the mouth
- Changes in sex drive
These side effects normally subside within two months after finishing radiation therapy; however there are other late side effects that do not occur till about six months after treatment. These late side effects include: infertility, joint problems and secondary cancer just to name a few.
The type and stage of your cancer will determine how extensive and how often you will need to receive treatments. Many patients take time off from work during this time due to all of the side effects; however, some choose to continue working. Keep your oncologist informed of your plans for work so we can accommodate your scheduling needs and offer recommendations for balancing treatments with work. We will also discuss with you ways to manage the side effects of treatment to help you continue with your normal routine as easily as possible.
Insurance coverage varies, but generally most standard insurance policies (including Medicare) cover at least a portion of treatment. We recommend you check with your insurance to determine your coverage. Also, it is important to note that if changing coverage in the middle of your treatment, there may be special terms covering pre-existing conditions.