What is cancer (general)?

Cancer (General)
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Living with cancer: Overview

People with cancer are living longer and better than ever. Everyone deals with cancer differently. What is important to you may change based on your experiences. You may appreciate your life, family, and friends more. But you also may need to adapt to the changes that cancer causes. Some of the changes, such as hair loss, are temporary. Others, like the loss of a breast or other organ, are permanent.

Getting back to normal can be a challenge. Allow yourself time to adjust. A positive attitude and a strong, fighting spirit can help you cope. You may come back stronger than ever. But you may not be able to do everything you did before cancer. If you notice changes in your ability to function, talk to your doctor about them.

You may be afraid that your cancer will return. But a healthy diet, regular exercise, and an end to unhealthy habits like smoking can improve your health.

Does aspirin prevent cancer?

Daily aspirin use may help prevent some types of cancer, such as colon cancer. But aspirin increases the risk of bleeding inside your body. It isn't clear that the benefits outweigh the risks. Talk to your doctor to understand the possible benefits as well as the possible risks.

What can you do to get your cancer test results?

Waiting for a test result that could change your life may be one of the hardest things about cancer treatment.

Most doctors, labs, and hospitals are busy, and you may not want to bother them. But medical tests can provide information that's important to your future. And you have a right to know your results.

Here are some tips for following up on tests.

  • Find out when you can expect the results. Ask what number you can call to check on your results.
  • If you don't get your results when you expect to, call the number you were given. If your results are not ready yet, ask when they will be ready, and call back at that time.
  • When the results are ready, ask to have a printed copy sent to you.
  • Meet with your doctor as soon as you can to discuss your results and what they mean for you.

How can you care for yourself when you have cancer?

There are things you can do at home to help manage the symptoms of cancer and the side effects of treatment. Talk to your doctor about ways to care for yourself at home. Healthy habits such as eating right and getting enough sleep and exercise can help.

Adjusting to life after cancer

Everyone who goes through cancer has a time of adjustment afterward. This is part of your recovery, and it may take longer than you expect. These tips may help.

  • Give yourself time to make sense of it all.

    Surviving cancer is something to celebrate. But many people find that the time after treatment is different than they expected. It may be hard to make sense of how cancer has affected you.

    • Some changes may be tough to deal with. You may have pain or scars from treatment. And even though you're well, you may still feel distress over everything you went through.
    • Some changes may be good. You may have a fresh outlook on life and feel that you've been given a second chance.

    This is a time of adjustment, taking care of yourself, and finding your new "normal." Be patient with yourself, and remember that there's no right or wrong way to feel.

  • Accept changes in your relationships.

    Cancer changes families. It can create closer bonds, but it also can bring out difficult emotions. Here are some things you can do to help your family adjust.

    Let them know what you can and can't handle.
    Even though your treatment is over, you may not have enough energy to do all the things you used to do. Let your family know that you still need their help.
    Help them understand that it takes time.
    Talk about how cancer has changed your family and how some things may not go back to the way they were before cancer.
    Be honest with your children.
    Speak openly about your cancer and recovery, and let them ask questions.

    Some other relationships may be different now too. You may have new friends because of cancer. You may have grown closer to some of the people in your life. Or maybe you feel disappointed in people you thought you could count on.

  • Seek a sense of closure.

    Cancer isn't something you'll ever forget, but it's important to look to the future. You might have a party to mark the end of your treatment. A ritual or celebration can help you put this phase of your life behind you. Or you may want some time alone to think about what you've been through and how to move forward.

  • Get help with moving on.

    Even though your treatment is over, cancer may continue to affect the way you think and feel. You may worry about the cancer coming back or feel stressed about medical bills. You may feel lonely after the people in your support network go back to their regular routines. You may wish that you could leave it all behind. These feelings are normal. Everyone has their own reactions after cancer.

    Think about getting help during this stage of your recovery. Your doctor can help you find counselors and support groups.

    • Counseling can help you work through your emotions.
    • A cancer survivor group will connect you with people who understand what you're going through because they've been there too.

How can you adjust to life after cancer?

Everyone who goes through cancer has a time of adjustment afterward. This is part of your recovery, and it may take longer than you expect.

Give yourself time to make sense of it all.

It may be hard to make sense of how cancer has affected you. Be patient with yourself. Remember that there's no right or wrong way to feel.

Accept changes in your relationships.

Cancer changes families. Some of your relationships may be different now too. You may have grown closer to some people and feel disappointed in others.

Seek a sense of closure.

You might have a party to mark the end of your treatment. Or you may want some time alone to think about what you've been through.

Get help with moving on.

Cancer may continue to affect the way you think and feel. If you need help, think about counseling or connecting with a cancer survivor group.

Cancer: Your Support Network

What questions should you ask when diagnosed with cancer?

Here are some questions that people with cancer often ask. You may have other questions that are important to you.

  • What do I need to know about my cancer?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • What are the most common side effects of each treatment?
  • How soon do I need to make a decision about treatment?
  • Where can I get more information about my type of cancer?

It's a good idea to write down the questions you want to ask and take the list to your doctor visits. And it can help to have a friend or family member there to listen, take notes, and support you.

How can you cope with your emotions when you have cancer?

  • Cancer can be very unpredictable. Learning to live with uncertainty is part of living with cancer.
  • You may have some false ideas about how you "should" feel when you have cancer. Although some people with cancer suffer from depression, not all do.
  • If you are depressed, talk to your doctor and get treatment. It will help you to feel better and focus on making good health decisions. Symptoms of depression include:
    • You feel helpless or hopeless.
    • You lose interest in being with family or friends.
    • You lose interest in hobbies or activities you once enjoyed.
    • You do not feel hungry.
    • You cry a lot, or for long periods of time.
    • You have trouble sleeping, or you sleep too much or too little.
    • You think about killing yourself, or you make plans or take action to kill yourself.
  • Share your feelings with someone you can trust. It is okay to feel angry and frustrated. You will feel better if you can share these feelings with someone. Do not pretend to be cheerful if you are not.
  • Know which family members or friends you can turn to for support. Find a good listener. You do not always want advice.
  • Find a support group for people who have cancer. A support group can be a safe and comfortable place to talk about your illness.
  • Let yourself grieve. But when symptoms get in the way of your ability to carry on with daily activities, talk to your doctor.
  • Talk to your doctor if you are thinking about using any over-the-counter or herbal supplements. Some of them may not be safe if used with certain other medicines.

Where to get help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

If you or someone you know talks about suicide, self-harm, a mental health crisis, a substance use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress, get help right away. You can:

  • Call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.
  • Call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
  • Text HOME to 741741 to access the Crisis Text Line.

Consider saving these numbers in your phone.

Go to 988lifeline.org for more information or to chat online.

What are cancer stages and grades?

The stage describes how much cancer is in the body, where it is, and how far it has spread. The grade compares tumor cells to healthy cells. Knowing the stage and grade of a cancer helps doctors know what treatment to use. It also helps predict how long the person will survive.

Cancer stages.

The TNM method is based on the size of the tumor (T), the spread of the cancer into nearby lymph nodes (N), and the spread of the cancer to other body parts (M, for metastasis).

To describe the overall stage of a cancer, doctors may use stages 0 through IV. Stage 0 means the cancer hasn't spread. Stage IV means it has spread (metastasized).

Tumor grades.

A tumor's grade describes how its cells look. Tumors are generally graded from 1 to 4. A lower number means more normal-looking cells and a lower likelihood that the cancer will spread quickly.

Cancer: Eating well during treatment

Eating well during cancer treatment is very important. It can help you deal with nausea and vomiting. It can help you feel better, keep up your strength and energy, and maintain your weight. And it can also help you fight infection and recover as quickly as possible.

Here are some tips for eating well during cancer treatment.

  • Be sure to get the nutrition you need.
    • Treat yourself by choosing the healthy foods you like best.
    • Try to eat food that has protein and extra calories to keep up your strength and prevent weight loss.
    • If you don't feel like eating, liquid meal replacements can help you get the calories and protein you need.
  • Eat small, frequent meals or snacks.
    • Try 5 or 6 small meals instead of 3 bigger meals.
    • When you don't feel like eating your normal foods, try apple or grape juice, weak teas, clear broths, dry toast, cooked cereal, and gelatin dessert such as Jell-O. Avoid citrus juices and lemonade.
  • Make the most of the days or times when your appetite is good.
    • Many people find that breakfast time is their best time of day.
    • Don't force yourself to eat when you feel sick to your stomach.
  • Eat a light meal or snack before your treatment.

    You may feel better if you have something in your stomach.

    • Try eating food cold or at room temperature.
    • Stay away from foods that make you feel sick, such as fried, spicy, sweet, or salty foods.
  • Get help with meals if you need it.
    • Ask friends and family for help with shopping and preparing food.
    • Think about having meals delivered to your home. Or have lunch at a community or senior center.

Stomatitis from cancer treatment: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You can't eat or drink.
  • You have new or worse pain.
  • You have a fever.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.