Cancer A-Z

Cancer can grow in many different forms and places in a person’s body. In addition to the many different types of cancer, every person’s cancer and cancer experience is different. Use this page to learn about the different types of cancer, but talk to your doctor if you have questions about your own health. 

Acute Myeloid Leukemia

What is acute myeloid leukemia?

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a type of blood cancer. AML is usually fast growing and needs to be treated quickly.

Blood is made up of different types of cells. These cells are made in the center of your bones, in a part called the bone marrow. When people have AML, their bone marrow makes abnormal blood cells instead of normal blood cells. These abnormal blood cells grow out of control, get into the blood and travel around the body. Sometimes, these cells collect in certain parts of the body.

When the bone marrow makes abnormal blood cells, it does not make the normal blood cells a person's body needs. This can cause symptoms.

What are the symptoms of AML?

The most common symptoms of AML include:

  • Feeling very tired and weak
  • Bleeding more easily than normal
  • Getting sick from infections more easily than normal

Is there a test for AML?

Yes. Your doctor or nurse will talk with you and do an exam. They will also do:

  • Blood tests
  • Bone marrow biopsy – A doctor will take a very small sample of the bone marrow. Then another doctor will look at the cells under a microscope to see if abnormal (cancer) cells are present.

There are different types of AML. The test results can show which type you have. The right treatment for you will depend a lot on your age and the type of AML you have.

How is AML treated?

Treatment for AML usually includes two parts. The first part of treatment is called induction of remission and lasts about four weeks. During this part, people stay in the hospital and get chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is the medical term for medicines that kill cancer cells or stop them from growing. For people who are not well enough to get this much chemotherapy, there are other treatments, but they are generally not as effective.

Many people are in remission after the chemotherapy. This means that doctors do not see any abnormal blood cells in the blood or bone marrow. But even though doctors do not see any abnormal cells, there are still abnormal cells in the body. To kill these cells and prevent the AML from returning, people need more treatment.

The second part of treatment is called post-remission therapy. During this time, people can have one or more of the following treatments:

  • More chemotherapy – People might need to stay in the hospital for a few days each month to get chemotherapy. This treatment can last three or four months.
  • Bone marrow transplant (also called stem cell transplant) – This treatment replaces cells in the bone marrow that are killed by chemotherapy or radiation. These "donor" cells can come from different places, including:
    • People who are related to you and whose blood matches yours
    • People who are not related to you, but whose blood matches yours
    • Blood (that matches yours) from a newborn baby's umbilical cord

One type of AML, called acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), is treated differently from other types. People with APL might get other types of medicine, either with or without chemotherapy.

What happens after treatment? 

After treatment, your doctor will check you every so often to see if the cancer comes back. Regular follow-ups include talking with your doctor, exams and blood tests. Sometimes, your doctor will also do a bone marrow biopsy.

What happens if the AML comes back? 

If the AML comes back, you might have more chemotherapy, radiation or bone marrow transplantation.


Bone Marrow Transplant

What is a bone marrow transplant? 

A bone marrow transplant is a procedure that replaces abnormal or missing cells in the bone marrow with healthy cells. The bone marrow is the tissue in the center of certain bones. Normally, the bone marrow makes blood cells. There are different types of blood cells, and all of them are made from cells in the bone marrow called hematopoietic stem cells.

If the bone marrow does not work normally, it can't make the blood cells a person's body needs. To treat this, a doctor can put healthy stem cells, called donor cells, into the bone marrow. The donor cells can then grow into normal blood cells. A bone marrow transplant is also called a stem cell transplant or hematopoietic stem cell transplant.

Why might I have a bone marrow transplant? 

You might have a bone marrow transplant to help treat a cancer, such as leukemia or lymphoma, or another medical condition that affects your bone marrow.

Are there different types of bone marrow transplant? 

Yes. There are different types of bone marrow transplant, depending on a few things:

  • Where the donor cells come from. Donor cells can come from:
    • Your own body
    • People who are related to you and whose blood matches yours
    • People who are not related to you but whose blood matches yours
    • Blood (that matches yours) from a newborn baby's umbilical cord
  • What treatment you have to prepare your body for the transplant
  • The right type of bone marrow transplant for you will depend on your cancer (or other medical condition), age, other health conditions and possible donors.

What happens before a bone marrow transplant?

Your doctor will do an exam and tests. They will talk with you and your family about what to expect during and after the procedure.

Your doctor will put a thin tube into a blood vessel in your upper chest. This tube, called a central line, will stay in place during your hospital stay. Your doctor will use it to give you treatments, as well as take blood for tests.

Your doctor will also need to collect stem cells if the donor cells are coming from you. (If the donor cells are coming from someone else, another doctor will collect those.)

What happens during a bone marrow transplant? 

First, you will get chemotherapy, radiation therapy or both. Chemotherapy is the medical term for medicines that kill cancer and other cells. These treatments prepare your bone marrow to receive the new stem cells.

After this, your doctor will put the donor cells into your body through your central line or another vein. The stem cells will find their way to your bone marrow. There, they can start making normal blood cells.

What happens after a bone marrow transplant? 

Most people stay in the hospital for a few weeks to months after a bone marrow transplant.

Right after a bone marrow transplant, your body has a higher chance than usual of getting an infection. Because of this, you will need to stay in a special hospital room and get certain medicines. Your doctor might give you other treatments, depending on your symptoms. They will also do blood tests each day to check that your bone marrow transplant worked.

Once your bone marrow is working normally and you return home, you will need to see your doctor for regular follow-ups.

What are the side effects of a bone marrow transplant?

The side effects depend on where your donor cells came from, as well as which treatment you have before the transplant.

The most common short-term side effects include:

  • Mouth sores and diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Hair loss (from the head, face and body)
  • Lung, liver or bone problems
  • Graft versus host disease (GVHD) – In GVHD, the donor cells can attack organs in your body. This can cause a skin rash, diarrhea and liver problems. GVHD can only happen in people who get donor cells from someone else.

People can also have long-term side effects that include:

  • Trouble getting pregnant – If you want to have a baby in the future, talk with your doctor before your bone marrow transplant.
  • Other cancers that can happen years later
  • Long-lasting GVHD


Neutropenia

What is neutropenia?

Neutropenia is a condition that happens when your blood does not have enough of the cells called neutrophils. Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell. They help your body fight infections.

Blood is made up of different types of cells. These cells are made in the center of your bones, in a part called the bone marrow. Neutropenia can happen if:

  • Your bone marrow doesn't make enough neutrophils.
  • Something in your body (such as a medicine you took or your own immune system) destroys some of your neutrophils.

Some people with neutropenia have no symptoms. But people with severe neutropenia can get fevers and frequent infections.

What causes neutropenia?

Many different things can cause neutropenia.

  • Infections – Many different infections can cause neutropenia, including:
    • Typhoid fever
    • Tuberculosis
    • Hepatitis B
    • HIV, the virus that causes AIDS
  • Medicines – Many medicines can cause neutropenia. Some examples include:
    • Medicines used to treat cancer
  • Problems with your infection-fighting system – The body's infection-fighting system is also called the immune system. Normally, the immune system kills germs and other bad cells that could turn into cancer. But sometimes the immune system attacks healthy cells, including white blood cells. This condition is known as autoimmune neutropenia.
  • People from certain ethnic groups can have a slightly low neutrophil count, but they have no health problems from this condition. This is called benign ethnic neutropenia.
  • Problems related to the bone marrow – Some conditions that involve the blood cells made in the bone marrow can cause neutropenia. Examples include certain inherited conditions, myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and certain types of leukemia or anemia.

Is there a test for neutropenia?

Yes. A blood test called a complete blood count with white blood cell differential looks at all the different types of white blood cells in your blood. It can show if you have neutropenia. Doctors also call this test a "CBC with diff." The important number is the number of neutrophils, or neutrophil count, not the percentage.

Your doctor or nurse will decide if you need other tests based on your age, other symptoms and individual situation. Here are some of the things doctors use to find the cause of neutropenia:

  • CBC results – Sometimes there are other clues from the CBC, such as the sizes or numbers of other blood cells.
  • Other lab tests – Sometimes other lab tests may be helpful, such as the level of vitamin B12 or tests for lupus.
  • Bone marrow biopsy – For this, a doctor will take a very small sample of the bone marrow from your hip bone. Then another doctor will look at the cells under a microscope. Only some people need this test. Your doctor is most likely to do this test if you have a very low neutrophil count or other abnormal blood cells.

How is neutropenia treated? 

The treatment depends on what caused you to get neutropenia. If your neutropenia was caused by a medicine you took, your doctor might have you stop taking the medicine. They might be able to switch you to a different medicine that is less likely to cause the problem.

Your doctor will tell you how concerned you need to be about serious infections. If you are at risk for serious infections, you'll need to get to a doctor or hospital right away if you have a fever or other symptoms of infection. For people who have neutropenia from chemotherapy and get a fever, it is very important to get to the hospital right away to be treated for infection.

Am I at increased risk for blood cancer?

Despite some information that is out there, the answer for most people is no. Rarely, people who were born with some forms of severe neutropenia have a very slightly increased risk of a type of blood cancer called acute myeloid leukemia. But this risk is small and applies only to a small group of people who are born with neutropenia, not people who get it later in life.


CBC

What is a complete blood count?

A complete blood count (CBC) is a test that gives information about the three main types of cells in the blood. The cells include:

  • Red blood cells – These cells carry oxygen to your body.
  • White blood cells – These cells fight infections. There are five main types of white blood cells. Each type works in a different way.
  • Platelets – Platelets are actually pieces of cells, not whole cells. They help clots form so that you stop bleeding after you are injured.

A CBC measures the number of each of the three types of cells in your blood and shows if your levels are low, normal or high. The test usually also measures:

  • How much space the red blood cells take up in your blood, called the hematocrit
  • How much hemoglobin is in your blood – Hemoglobin is the protein that carries oxygen in your blood.
  • Information about the size and shape of your red blood cells

Some CBC blood tests also include a white blood cell differential. This tells you how many of each of the different types of white blood cells you have. It also shows if you have any abnormal white blood cells.

Why might a doctor or nurse order a CBC? 

A CBC is done for many reasons. Your doctor or nurse might order this test when you have a regular check-up. This might be done to check for anemia, or if you have an infection or signs of bleeding. If you have certain other diseases or take certain medicines, your doctor or nurse might check your CBC regularly to make sure your blood counts are okay.

What can a CBC show?

The results of the test can show if you have different health conditions. Examples include:

  • Anemia – This is the medical term for too few red blood cells.
  • Polycythemia – This is the medical term for too many red blood cells.
  • An infection, which causes your white blood cell level to rise
  • Bleeding or clotting disorders – If your blood makes too many or too few platelets, you might have a bleeding or clotting disorder.
  • Problems with the body's infection-fighting system if your white blood cell level is low
  • Conditions or medicines that affect your bone marrow – The bone marrow is the space inside some of your bones that makes all three types of blood cells.

Bladder Cancer

What is bladder cancer?

Bladder cancer happens when normal cells in the bladder change into abnormal cells and grow out of control.

What are the symptoms of bladder cancer?

Bladder cancer causes mild symptoms that can come and go. These include:

  • Blood in the urine, which makes your urine look pink or red
  • Pain on the sides of your back or above your pubic area
  • Pain when urinating, urinating often or leaking urine

These symptoms can also be caused by conditions that are not bladder cancer. But if you have any of these symptoms, you should be checked by a doctor or nurse.

Is there a test for bladder cancer?

Yes. Doctors can use different types of tests to look for bladder cancer. These include:

  • Urine tests – Urine tests can show what kind of cells are in the urine.
  • X-rays, CT scans or other imaging tests – These tests create images of the entire urinary tract, which includes the kidneys, ureters and the bladder. They can show tumors or abnormal growths.
  • Cystoscopy – Cystoscopy is a procedure that allows the doctor to look directly inside the bladder. To do a cystoscopy, the doctor inserts a small tube into the urethral opening, the opening through which urine leaves the body, and then pushes the tube up into the bladder. The tube has a tiny camera that projects images of the bladder onto a screen. If the doctor sees anything unusual, they might take a sample of tissue (called a biopsy) to look at under the microscope.

How are bladder cancer treatment decisions made?

Once the diagnosis of bladder cancer is confirmed, the treatment depends on the cancer stage and grade. Cancer staging is a way in which doctors find out how far a cancer has spread. Grading refers to the way the cancer looks under the microscope. The right treatment for you will also depend on how old you are and whether you have any other medical problems.

How is bladder cancer treated?

People with bladder cancer often have one or more of the following treatments:

  • Surgery – Bladder cancer is usually treated with surgery. Depending on how large the cancer is and how far it has spread, doctors can do one or three things:
    • Take out the cancer and leave the bladder in place. In many cases, this is done through cystoscopy. Usually this procedure has no impact on the ability to urinate.
    • Take out the cancer and a part of the bladder. This option depends on how much of the bladder is involved and is not done very often. After this procedure, people can often urinate normally.
    • Take out the cancer, the bladder and nearby internal organs. This option might be necessary for people with advanced bladder cancer. With this type of surgery, the surgeon also has to create a new way for urine to leave the body, because the bladder has been removed.
  • Medical therapy – Medicines are an important part of treatment for people with bladder cancer. Doctors use different medicines depending on the extent of the cancer.
    • For people with very early bladder cancer that has not spread into the bladder muscle (called "superficial bladder cancer"), medicine is given directly into the bladder.
    • For people with cancer that invades the bladder muscle, chemotherapy should be given before surgery. Chemotherapy is the medical term for medicines that kill cancer cells or stop them from growing. This can shrink the cancer and make it easier to remove.
    • For people with invasive bladder cancer who did not go through chemotherapy before surgery, chemotherapy can be given once they are healed from surgery.
  • Radiation therapy – Radiation kills cancer cells. Radiation therapy might be an option for some people instead of surgery. It is often given along with chemotherapy.

What happens after treatment?

After treatment, you will be checked every so often to see if the cancer comes back. Follow up tests can include urine tests, cystoscopy and X-rays.

Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any of the symptoms listed above. Having those symptoms could mean the cancer has come back.

What happens if the cancer comes back or spreads?

If the cancer comes back or spreads, you might have more surgery or get chemotherapy or radiation.

What else should I do?

It is important to follow all your doctor's instructions about visits and tests. It's also important to talk to your doctor about any side effects or problems you have during treatment.

Getting treated for bladder cancer involves making many choices, such as which type of surgery to have. Always let your doctors and nurses know how you feel about a treatment. Any time you are offered a treatment, ask:

  • What are the benefits of this treatment? Is it likely to help me live longer? Will it reduce or prevent symptoms?
  • What are the downsides to this treatment?
  • Are there other options besides this treatment?
  • What happens if I do not have this treatment?

Breast Cancer

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer happens when normal cells in the breast change and grow out of control. A person sometimes discovers they have breast cancer because they find a lump in one of their breasts. Breast cancer is much more common in women than in men, but men can get the disease. Breast cancer sometimes runs in families.

If you feel a lump in your breast, see your doctor or nurse right away. Breast lumps can be caused by conditions that are not cancer. But it is a good idea to have any lumps checked out.

Is there a test for breast cancer?

Yes. Doctors use a special kind of X-ray called a mammogram to check for breast cancer. If a mammogram finds a spot that looks like it could be cancer, doctors usually follow up with another test called a biopsy. During a biopsy, a doctor takes one or more small samples of tissue from the breast. That way, the doctor can look at the cells under a microscope to see if they have cancer.

What is breast cancer staging?

Cancer staging is a way in which doctors find out how far a cancer has spread. The right treatment for you will depend, in part, on the stage of your cancer.

How is breast cancer treated?

If you have breast cancer, you may have one or more of the following treatments:

  • Surgery – Breast cancer is usually treated with surgery to remove the cancer. You can choose between two types of surgery:
    • Mastectomy is surgery to remove the whole breast. (If you choose this option, you might have to decide whether to have surgery to reconstruct your breast and when.)
    • Breast-conserving surgery (also called "lumpectomy") is surgery to remove the cancer and a section of healthy tissue around it. If you choose this option, you will keep your breast, but you will probably have to have radiation therapy after surgery.
  • Radiation therapy – Radiation kills cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy is the medical term for medicines that kill cancer cells or stop them from growing. Some people take these medicines before surgery to shrink the cancer and make it easier to remove. Some take these medicines after surgery to keep cancer from growing, spreading or coming back.
  • Hormone therapy – Some forms of breast cancer grow in response to hormones. Your doctor might give you treatments to block hormones or to prevent your body from making certain kinds of hormones.
  • Targeted therapy – Some medicines work only on cancers that have certain characteristics. Your doctor might test you to see if you have a kind of cancer that would respond to this kind of therapy.

What happens after treatment?

After treatment, you will need to be checked every so often to see if the cancer comes back. You will have tests, usually including more mammograms. You should also watch for symptoms that could mean the cancer has come back. Examples of these symptoms include new lumps in the breast area, pain (in the bones, chest or stomach), trouble breathing and headaches. If you start having any new symptom, mention it to your doctor.

What happens if cancer comes back or spreads?

That depends on where the cancer is. Most people get hormone therapy or chemotherapy. Some people also have surgery to remove new tumors.

Can breast cancer be prevented?

People who are at high risk of getting breast cancer can sometimes take a medicine to help prevent the disease. If you have a strong family history of breast cancer, ask your doctor what you can do to prevent cancer.

What will my life be like? 

Many people with breast cancer do very well after treatment. The important thing is to take your medicines as directed and to follow all your doctors' instructions about visits and tests. It's also important to talk to your doctor about any side effects or problems you have during treatment.

Getting treated for breast cancer involves making many choices. Besides choosing which surgery to have, you might have to choose which medicines to take and when.

Always let your doctors and nurses know how you feel about a treatment. Any time you are offered a treatment, ask:

  • What are the benefits of this treatment? Is it likely to help me live longer? Will it reduce or prevent symptoms?
  • What are the downsides to this treatment?
  • Are there alternatives to this treatment?
  • What happens if I do not have this treatment?

Colorectal Cancer

What is colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer is cancer that affects the large intestine (also known as the colon) or the rectum. The word "colorectal" is just a shortened way of saying colon and rectal.

Colorectal cancer can be serious. But, there are many ways to treat it.

Is there a test for colorectal cancer?

Yes, there are a few tests that can find colorectal cancer. Your doctor or nurse can explain your choices.

If your doctor or nurse thinks you have colorectal cancer, they will probably suggest a test called a "colonoscopy." During a colonoscopy, the doctor inserts a tube and a tiny camera into your anus and up to your colon. That way, they can look for cancer or other problems.

What are the symptoms of colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer might not cause any symptoms at first. When it does cause symptoms, it can cause:

  • Stomach pain
  • A change in your bowel movements (number, texture, size)
  • Blood in your bowel movements
  • Feeling weak or tired

How is colorectal cancer treated?

Most types of colorectal cancer are treated with one or more of these:

  • Surgery to remove the part of the colon or rectum that has cancer
  • Chemotherapy, which is the medical term for medicines that kill cancer cells or stop them from growing.
  • Radiation therapy

Will my body work normally after surgery?

That depends on what type of surgery you have. If your doctor can reconnect your colon or rectum after removing the part with cancer, you should be able to have bowel movements normally. If your doctor cannot reconnect your colon or rectum, they will make a hole in your belly and attach the end of the colon or a loop of intestine to that hole. The hole is called a "colostomy." Your bowel movements will come out through the opening into a bag that is glued to your skin.

Some people need to have a colostomy only for a short time. Then they can have another surgery to reconnect their colon or rectum. Other people need to have a colostomy for the rest of their life. If you need a colostomy, your doctor or nurse will put you in touch with people who can help you learn to use it.

What happens after treatment?

After you finish treatment, you should see your doctor or nurse every so often for a few years. That way, they can check to see if the cancer comes back. You will probably have to have blood tests every so often, a few more colonoscopy tests, plus a special kind of X-ray called a "CT scan." Your doctor or nurse will also talk to you about your mood, stress level, sex life and any other problems you might have after finishing treatment.

Kidney Cancer

What is kidney cancer?

Kidney cancer happens when normal cells in the kidney change into abnormal cells and grow out of control. People have two kidneys, one on each side of the mid-back. The kidneys' job is to filter the blood and remove waste and excess salt and water. Urine is made up of these ingredients.

What are the symptoms of kidney cancer?

Smaller kidney tumors do not always cause symptoms, but larger tumors and tumors that have spread outside the kidney can cause symptoms, such as:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Pain on either side of your lower back, in your side or in your stomach
  • A lump in your belly or on the side of your back
  • Weight loss that you cannot explain

These symptoms can also be caused by conditions that are not cancer. But if you have these symptoms, you should be checked by a doctor or nurse.

Is there a test for kidney cancer?

Yes. If you have symptoms of kidney cancer, your doctor or nurse might order a test to check your kidneys. These tests can show tumors or abnormal growths by creating images of your kidneys in different ways, and they include:

  • CT scan (a type of X-ray)
  • MRI (uses magnets to create images)
  • Ultrasound (uses sound waves to create images)

Most people find out they have kidney cancer after having an imaging test for an unrelated symptom. For example, people sometimes have a CT scan because they have belly pain and then find out they have a tumor in a kidney.

What is kidney cancer staging?

Cancer staging is a way in which doctors find out how far a cancer has spread. The right treatment for you will depend a lot on the stage of your cancer.

How is kidney cancer treated? 

People with kidney cancer often have one or both of the following treatments:

  • Surgery – When cancer is confined to the kidney, it is usually treated with surgery with the goal of taking out the entire tumor. This can involve removing all or part of the affected kidney. The decision about how much to remove depends on different things, including how well the other kidney works and how big the tumor is. In some cases, surgery can help even if the cancer has already spread to other parts of the body.
  • Medical treatment – Different medicines can also be used to treat kidney cancer, particularly if it cannot be removed, or if there is evidence it has spread. This might include:
    • Targeted therapy – This includes medicines that block certain blood vessels or proteins in your body that help the cancer grow.
    • Immunotherapy – This is the term doctors use for medicines that work with the body's infection-fighting system (the immune system) to stop cancer growth.

What happens after treatment?

After treatment, you will be checked every so often to see if the cancer comes back. Follow up tests can include exams, lab tests and X-ray tests.

What happens if the cancer comes back or spreads?

If the cancer comes back or spreads, you might have more surgery or medical treatment.

What else should I do?

It is important to follow all your doctor's instructions about visits and tests. It's also important to talk to your doctor about any side effects or problems you have during treatment.

Getting treated for kidney cancer involves making many choices, such as which type of surgery to have or which medicine to take.

Always let your doctors and nurses know how you feel about a treatment. Any time you are offered a treatment, ask:

  • What are the benefits of this treatment? Is it likely to help me live longer? Will it reduce or prevent symptoms?
  • What are the downsides to this treatment?
  • Are there other options besides this treatment?
  • What happens if I do not have this treatment?

Leukemia

What is leukemia?

Leukemia is a type of cancer of blood cells. Blood is made up of different types of cells that are made in the center of your bones in a part called the bone marrow.

When people have leukemia, their bone marrow makes abnormal blood cells instead of normal blood cells. These abnormal blood cells grow out of control, get into the blood and travel around the body. Sometimes, these cells collect in certain parts of the body.

When the bone marrow makes abnormal blood cells, it does not make the normal blood cells a person’s body needs. This can cause symptoms.

There are different types of leukemia. Some types grow very slowly (chronic leukemias), while others grow much faster (acute leukemias). Sometimes, people have a type of chronic leukemia that is slow growing at first and later becomes a fast-growing acute leukemia.

What are the symptoms of leukemia?

Leukemia does not always cause symptoms, especially at first. When it does cause symptoms, the most common ones include:

  • Feeling very tired and weak
  • Bleeding more easily than normal
  • Getting sick from infections more easily than normal

These symptoms can also be caused by conditions that are not leukemia. But if you have these symptoms, you should let your doctor or nurse know.

Is there a test for leukemia?

Yes. Your doctor or nurse can use different tests to diagnose leukemia. These include:

  • Blood tests
  • Bone marrow biopsy – For this test, a doctor takes a small sample of the bone marrow. The sample is then examined under a microscope to see if abnormal (cancer) cells are present.

Your doctor or nurse will also do an exam and ask about your symptoms.

How is leukemia treated? 

Doctors can treat leukemia in different ways. Sometimes, doctors treat leukemia right away. Other times if the leukemia is slow-growing and not causing symptoms, doctors might watch it closely until treatment is needed.

The right treatment for you will depend on the type of leukemia you have, your age and any other health problems.

Treatment for leukemia can include one or more of the following:

  • Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy is the medical term for medicines that kill cancer cells or stop them from growing.
  • Radiation therapy – Radiation kills leukemia cells.
  • Immunotherapy – This is the term doctors use for medicines that kill cancer cells by recognizing proteins on the cancer cells.
  • Bone marrow transplant (also called stem cell transplant) – This treatment replaces cells in the bone marrow that are killed by chemotherapy or radiation. These donor cells can come from different places, including:
    • You – Your cells can be taken out of your bone marrow before your treatment is completed and put back in after you have completed chemotherapy or radiation treatment.
    • People who are related to you and whose tissue type (HLA type) matches yours
    • People who are not related to you, but whose HLA type matches yours
    • Blood (that matches yours) from a newborn baby's umbilical cord

What happens after treatment?

After treatment, you will be checked every so often to see if the leukemia comes back. Regular follow up tests include talking with your doctor, exams and blood tests. Sometimes, the doctor will also do a bone marrow biopsy.

What happens if the leukemia comes back?

If the leukemia comes back, you might have more chemotherapy, radiation or bone marrow transplantation.

What else should I do?

It is important to follow all your doctor's instructions about visits and tests. It's also important to talk to your doctor about any side effects or problems you have during treatment.

Getting treated for leukemia involves making many choices, such as what treatment to have and when. Always let your doctors and nurses know how you feel about a treatment. Any time you are offered a treatment, ask:

  • What are the benefits of this treatment? Is it likely to help me live longer? Will it reduce or prevent symptoms?
  • What are the downsides to this treatment?
  • Are there other options besides this treatment?
  • What happens if I do not have this treatment?

Liver Cancer

What is liver cancer?

Liver cancer happens when normal cells in the liver change into abnormal cells and grow out of control. The liver is a big organ in the upper right side of the belly.

Most people who get liver cancer have long-term liver disease (also called chronic liver disease). Having long-term liver disease increases a person's chances of getting liver cancer. The most common and most serious form of long-term liver disease is a condition called cirrhosis, which scars the liver.

What are the symptoms of liver cancer?

Liver cancer does not usually cause any symptoms on its own. A few patients might have a lump or mild pain in the upper belly, feel full early on when they try to eat or lose weight.

Others might have symptoms that are caused by the liver disease they had before they got cancer. Those symptoms can get worse or come back because of the cancer. They include:

  • Swelling of the belly or legs
  • The skin or white part of the eyes turning yellow

If you have these symptoms, tell your doctor or nurse.

Is there a test for liver cancer?

Yes. If your doctor suspects you have liver cancer, they will do one or more of the following tests:

  • Blood tests
  • An MRI scan, CT scan, ultrasound or other imaging test – Imaging tests create pictures of the inside of the body and can show abnormal growths.
  • Biopsy – For this test, a doctor will remove a small sample of tissue from the liver. Another doctor will look at the sample under a microscope to see if it has cancer.

What is liver cancer staging? 

Cancer staging is a way in which doctors find out if a cancer has spread past the layer of tissue where it began and, if so, how far.

How is liver cancer treated?

Liver cancer can be treated in different ways. Treatment depends on the stage of your cancer. It also depends on how healthy your liver is (in other words, how serious your liver disease was before you got cancer). The different treatments include:

  • Surgery – Liver cancer can sometimes be treated with surgery to remove the part of the liver with the cancer.
  • Liver transplant – A liver transplant is a type of surgery in which a doctor replaces a diseased liver with a healthy liver from another person.
  • Ablation therapy – Ablation therapy is a procedure that can kill cancer cells in the liver. It does not involve surgery. Doctors can do ablation therapy in different ways. They can kill the cancer cells using heat, a laser, radiation therapy or by injecting a special alcohol directly into the cancer.
  • Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy is the medical term for medicines that kill cancer cells or stop them from growing.
  • Immunotherapy – This is the term doctors use for medicines that work with the body's infection-fighting system (the immune system) to stop cancer growth.
  • Blocking the cancer's blood supply – Doctors can do a procedure called embolization to block off the blood vessel that sends blood to the cancer. This keeps the cancer from growing by "starving" it of its blood supply. Sometimes, the embolization procedure is combined with chemotherapy (chemoembolization) or radiation (radioembolization).

What happens after treatment?

After treatment, you will be checked every so often to see if the cancer comes back. Regular follow up tests usually include exams, blood tests and imaging tests.

You should also watch for the symptoms listed above. Having those symptoms could mean the cancer has come back. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any symptoms.

If you had a liver transplant, you will need to take medicines called anti-rejection medicines for the rest of your life. These medicines help keep your body from reacting badly to your new liver.

What happens if the cancer comes back or spreads?

If the cancer comes back or spreads, your doctor will talk with you about possible treatment choices. These might include the treatments listed above.

What else should I do? 

It is important to follow all your doctor's instructions about visits and tests. It's also important to talk to your doctor about any side effects or problems you have during treatment. People who have liver cancer, especially if they have long-term liver disease, should avoid alcohol and any drugs that could be harmful to the liver.

Getting treated for liver cancer involves making many choices, such as what treatment to have. Always let your doctors and nurses know how you feel about a treatment. Any time you are offered a treatment, ask:

  • What are the benefits of this treatment? Is it likely to help me live longer? Will it reduce or prevent symptoms?
  • What are the downsides to this treatment?
  • Are there other options besides this treatment?
  • What happens if I do not have this treatment?

Lung Cancer

What is lung cancer?

Lung cancer happens when normal cells in the lungs change into abnormal cells and grow out of control. There are different types of lung cancer. Some types grow much faster than others. In the United States, lung cancer is the biggest cause of deaths from cancer in men and women.

What are the symptoms of lung cancer?

Common symptoms of lung cancer can include:

  • Cough
  • Trouble breathing, or wheezing
  • Spitting or coughing up blood
  • Chest pain that can be dull, sharp or stabbing
  • Hoarse voice
  • Headache and swelling of the face, arms or neck

If the cancer is growing in the top part of the lungs, it can also cause:

  • Pain in the arm, shoulder or neck
  • Droopy eyelid or blurred vision
  • Weakness of the hand muscles

All of these symptoms can also be caused by conditions that are not lung cancer. But if you have these symptoms, you should let your doctor or nurse know.

Is there a test for lung cancer?

Yes. If your doctor suspects that you have lung cancer, they will do an exam and a chest X-ray. If the chest X-ray shows a spot that looks like it could be cancer, your doctor will probably follow up with other tests. These can include:

  • Blood tests
  • CT or PET scan – These imaging tests create pictures of the inside of your body. They can show abnormal growths.
  • Biopsy – A doctor will remove a small sample of tissue from the lung. He or she will look at the sample under a microscope to see if it has cancer.

What is lung cancer staging?

Cancer staging is a way in which doctors find out how far a cancer has spread.

The right treatment for you will depend, in part, on the stage of your lung cancer. Your treatment will also depend on the type of lung cancer you have, your age and any other health problems.

How is lung cancer treated?

Most people with lung cancer have one or more of the following treatments:

  • Surgery – Lung cancer can sometimes be treated with surgery to remove the cancer.
  • Radiation therapy – Radiation kills cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy is the medical term for medicines that kills cancer cells or stop them from growing.
  • Targeted therapy – Some medicines work only for cancers that have certain characteristics. Your doctor might test your tumor to see if you have a kind of lung cancer that would respond to these medicines.
  • Immunotherapy – This is the term doctors use for medicines that work with the body's infection-fighting system (the immune system) to stop cancer growth.

People with lung cancer also receive treatment for any symptoms they have. For example, if you have trouble breathing because fluid has collected around your lungs, your doctor can drain the fluid to help you breathe more easily.

What happens after treatment?

For some cancers, treatment lasts a certain amount of time. For others, treatment is ongoing. You will be checked regularly to see if your lung cancer comes back after you finish treatment, or is growing even with treatment. Follow up tests usually include exams, chest X-rays or CT scans. You should also watch for the symptoms listed above, because having those symptoms could mean the cancer has come back or grown. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any symptoms.

What happens if the lung cancer comes back or starts to grow?

If the lung cancer comes back or starts to grow, you might have more treatment, using one or more of the options above.

Can lung cancer be prevented?

Maybe. The best way to avoid getting lung cancer is to not smoke. People who smoke have a much higher chance of getting lung cancer than those who don't smoke. If you smoke, you can reduce your chance of getting lung cancer by quitting smoking.

What else should I do? 

It is important to follow all your doctors' instructions about visits and tests. It's also important to talk to your doctor about any side effects or problems you have during treatment.

Getting treated for lung cancer involves making many choices, such as what treatment to have and when. Always let your doctors and nurses know how you feel about a treatment. Any time you are offered a treatment, ask:

  • What are the benefits of this treatment? Is it likely to help me live longer? Will it reduce or prevent symptoms?
  • What are the downsides to this treatment?
  • Are there other options besides this treatment?
  • What happens if I do not have this treatment?

Lymphoma

What is lymphoma?

Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is made up of organs all over the body that make and store cells that fight infection. These infection-fighting cells are also called “white blood cells.”

When people have lymphoma, their white blood cells become abnormal and grow out of control. These cells can travel to different parts of the body. Often, the abnormal cells collect in small, bean-shaped organs called lymph nodes. This causes the lymph nodes to swell.

There are different types of lymphoma. Some types grow very slowly, while other types grow much faster. Sometimes, people start out with a slow-growing type of lymphoma that later becomes fast growing.

What are the symptoms of lymphoma?

The first sign of lymphoma is often one or more large, swollen lymph nodes. These swollen lymph nodes can be felt under the skin, but are usually not painful. They are often in the neck, groin, armpit or stomach.

Lymph nodes deeper in the body can also become swollen and cause symptoms. For example, swollen lymph nodes around the lungs can cause a cough or trouble breathing.

Other symptoms of lymphoma include:

  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Night sweats that soak your clothes

All of these symptoms can also be caused by conditions that are not lymphoma. But if you have these symptoms, you should let your doctor or nurse know.

Is there a test for lymphoma?

Yes. Your doctor or nurse will do an exam and ask about your symptoms. They might order other tests, including:

  • Lymph node biopsy – A doctor will remove all or part of the swollen lymph node. Another doctor will look at cells from the lymph node under a microscope to see if cancer is present.
  • Bone marrow biopsy – A doctor will take a small sample of bone marrow, which is the spongy tissue in the center of some bones. Another doctor will look at the sample under a microscope to see if it has cancer.
  • Other biopsy – A doctor might remove a small sample of other abnormal tissues in the body. These samples are also checked under a microscope for cancer.
  • CT scan, PET scan or other imaging tests – These tests create pictures of the inside of your body and can show abnormal growths.

What is lymphoma staging?

Lymphoma staging is a way in which doctors find out how far lymphoma has spread within the lymphatic system or within the body.

The right treatment for you will depend, in part, on the stage of your lymphoma. Your treatment will also depend on the type of lymphoma you have, your age and your other health problems.

How is lymphoma treated?

Doctors can treat lymphoma in different ways. People with some forms of lymphoma get treated right away. But people with lymphoma that is growing slowly and not causing symptoms often do not need treatment at first.

People with lymphoma often have one or more of the following treatments:

  • Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy is the medical term for medicines that kill cancer cells or stop them from growing.
  • Immunotherapy – These are medicines that kill cancer cells by recognizing the cancer cells.
  • Radiation therapy – Radiation kills cancer cells.
  • Bone marrow transplant (also called "stem cell transplant") – This treatment replaces cells in the bone marrow that are killed by chemotherapy or radiation.

What happens after treatment?

After treatment, you will be checked every so often to see if the lymphoma comes back. Regular follow up will include talking with your doctor and having exams. Sometimes your doctor will also do blood tests and imaging tests. Plus, you should watch for the symptoms listed above, because having those symptoms could mean the cancer has come back. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any symptoms.

What happens if the lymphoma comes back?

If the lymphoma comes back, you might have more chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation or a bone marrow transplant.

What else should I do?

It is important to follow all your doctors' instructions about visits and tests. It's also important to talk to your doctor about any side effects or problems you have during treatment.

Getting treated for lymphoma involves making many choices, such as what treatment to have and when. Always let your doctors and nurses know how you feel about a treatment. Any time you are offered a treatment, ask:

  • What are the benefits of this treatment? Is it likely to help me live longer? Will it reduce or prevent symptoms?
  • What are the risks to this treatment?
  • Are there other options besides this treatment?
  • What happens if I do not have this treatment?

Melanoma

What is melanoma?

Melanoma is a serious form of skin cancer. It happens when normal cells in the skin change into abnormal cells and grow out of control.

Melanoma can occur anywhere on the skin, including the back and other hard-to-see areas. It can also occur on the skin lining the mouth, nose and genitals. When it is not treated, melanoma can spread to organs inside the body. Melanoma can run in families.

What are the symptoms of melanoma? 

Melanoma often looks like a brown or black mole or birthmark. But melanoma has features that make it different from normal moles and birthmarks. People can remember the abnormal features of melanoma by thinking of the letters A, B, C, D, and E:

  • Asymmetry – One half of the spot can look different than the other half.
  • Border – The spot can have a jagged or uneven edge.
  • Color – The spot can have different colors.
  • Diameter – The spot is larger than the eraser on the end of a pencil.
  • Evolution – The spot’s size, color or shape can change over time.

Skin affected by melanoma can also bleed or become swollen, red, or crusty. Many moles and birthmarks are normal and are not melanoma. But if you have a mole or birthmark that you think might be abnormal, show it to your doctor or nurse.

Is there a test for melanoma?

Yes. Your doctor or nurse will do an exam and check the skin all over your body. If they suspect you have melanoma, you will have a follow-up test called a biopsy. During a biopsy, a doctor will usually remove the whole abnormal area. In some cases, the doctor might instead take a small sample of skin from the abnormal area. Either way, another doctor will look at the skin that is removed under a microscope to see if the cells have melanoma.

What is melanoma staging? 

Staging is a way in which doctors find out how deep in the skin and how far inside the body the melanoma has spread. The right treatment for you will depend a lot on the stage of your melanoma. Your treatment will also depend on your age and any other medical problems.

How is melanoma treated?

Most people with melanoma have one or more of the following treatments depending on the stage:

  • Surgery – Melanoma is usually treated with surgery to remove the cancer. That's usually true even if the biopsy appeared to have removed the whole abnormal area. During surgery, the doctor might also check nearby lymph nodes to see if the melanoma has spread inside the body. Lymph nodes are bean-shaped organs under the skin that store infection-fighting cells.
  • Immunotherapy – Immunotherapy is the term doctors use to describe medicines that work with the body's infection-fighting system to stop cancer growth.
  • Targeted therapy – Targeted therapy is the term doctors use to describe a group of medicines that work only on cancers with certain characteristics. These medicines usually work by blocking a specific protein or molecule.
  • Radiation therapy – Radiation kills cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy is the medical term for medicines that kill cancer cells or stop them from growing.

What happens after treatment?

After treatment, you will need to be checked every so often to see if the melanoma comes back or if new melanomas appear. Your doctor will do an exam and check your skin all over. He or she might also order follow up blood tests or imaging tests. Imaging tests create pictures of the inside of your body and can show abnormal growths.

Most doctors also recommend that you check your skin every month to look for any changes. It might also help to have a partner, friend or relative help you. They can check parts of your body that are hard for you to see, like your back. Tell your doctor or nurse if you find any new moles or birthmarks, or if the ones you have look different.

What happens if the melanoma comes back or if a new melanoma appears?

If the melanoma comes back or if you develop a new melanoma, you might have more surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or immunotherapy.

Can melanoma be prevented?

You can help prevent melanoma by protecting your skin from the sun's rays. Sun exposure and sunburn are a big cause of melanoma. To reduce the chance of getting melanoma, you can:

  • Stay out of the sun in the middle of the day (from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.).
  • Wear sunscreen and reapply it often.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat, long-sleeved shirt, or long pants.
  • Don’t use tanning beds. They increase your risk of getting melanoma.

What else should I do?

It is important to follow all your doctor's instructions about visits and tests. It's also important to talk to your doctor about any side effects or problems you have during treatment.

Always let your doctors and nurses know how you feel about a treatment. Any time you are offered a treatment, ask:

  • What are the benefits of this treatment? Is it likely to help me live longer? Will it reduce or prevent symptoms?
  • What are the downsides to this treatment?
  • Are there other options besides this treatment?
  • What happens if I do not have this treatment?

Ovarian Cancer

What is ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer happens when normal cells in the ovary change into abnormal cells and grow out of control. The ovaries are organs that are part of a female reproductive system. The eggs are in the ovaries.

Ovarian cancer occurs most often in people ages 50 to 65 and sometimes runs in families.

What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?

  • Symptoms of ovarian cancer can include:
  • Your stomach getting bigger
  • Feeling bloated or having stomach pain
  • Feeling full or having trouble eating
  • Needing to urinate often

When ovarian cancer begins to grow, some people might not notice their symptoms much. But as the cancer grows, the symptoms become worse.

These symptoms can also be caused by conditions that are not ovarian cancer. If you have these symptoms, however, you should let your doctor or nurse know.

Is there a test for ovarian cancer?

Yes. If your doctor suspects you have ovarian cancer, they might order one or more of the following:

  • Ultrasound or other imaging tests – These tests create images of the inside of the body and can show abnormal growths.
  • Blood tests – There are several blood tests that can help diagnose ovarian cancer. One is the "CA 125" blood test. CA 125 is a protein in the blood that goes up when you have ovarian cancer. The test can help find ovarian cancer, but it does not clearly show whether or not you have it. Blood tests can also help doctors decide whether they need to do surgery to diagnose ovarian cancer.
  • Surgery – The only way to know for sure if you have ovarian cancer is for a doctor to do surgery and remove the ovary. While the surgery is going on, usually another doctor will look at cells from the ovary under a microscope to check for cancer. If cancer is present, the doctor will usually continue surgery and treat the cancer by removing as much of it as possible. Most of the time, this involves doing a surgery called "total hysterectomy with salpingo-oophorectomy.” For this surgery, the doctor removes the ovaries, the tubes that connect the ovaries to the uterus (called the fallopian tubes) and the uterus. If the cancer has spread to other nearby organs, the doctor might remove those, too.

What is cancer staging?

Cancer staging is a way in which doctors find out how far a cancer has spread. The right treatment for you will depend, in part, on the stage of your cancer.

How is ovarian cancer treated?

For most people, having surgery to remove the cancer is the first part of treatment. Further treatment will depend a lot on the stage of the cancer and any other medical problems. Some people might not need any further treatment after surgery. Others might need further treatment that includes chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is the medical term for medicines that kill cancer cells or stop them from growing. Usually, these medicines go into a vein, but sometimes they can go through a small tube into the lower part of the stomach.

What if I want to get pregnant one day?

If you want to have a baby one day, tell your doctor before having treatment. Treatment for ovarian cancer usually leaves a person unable to get pregnant. But for some, it might be possible to plan treatment so that pregnancy is still possible.

What happens after treatment?

After treatment, you will be checked every so often to see if the cancer comes back. Follow up tests usually include blood tests, exams and imaging tests. You should also watch for the symptoms listed above, because having those symptoms could mean the cancer has come back. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any symptoms.

What happens if the cancer comes back or spreads?

If the cancer comes back or spreads, you might have more surgery or chemotherapy. You might also have a medicine called targeted therapy, which can help prevent cancer growth.

Can ovarian cancer be prevented?

If ovarian, breast, uterine, or colon cancer runs in your family, talk to your doctor. There might be things you can do to keep from getting cancer.

What else should I do?

It is important to follow all your doctors' instructions about visits and tests. It's also important to talk to your doctor about any side effects or problems you have during treatment.

Getting treated for ovarian cancer involves making many choices, such as what treatment to have. Always let your doctors and nurses know how you feel about a treatment. Any time you are offered a treatment, ask:

  • What are the benefits of this treatment? Is it likely to help me live longer? Will it reduce or prevent symptoms?
  • What are the downsides to this treatment?
  • Are there other options besides this treatment?
  • What happens if I do not have this treatment?

Pancreatic Cancer

What is pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer happens when normal cells in the pancreas change into abnormal cells and grow out of control. The pancreas is an organ that sits behind the stomach. It makes hormones and juices that help the body break down food.

What are the symptoms of pancreatic cancer?

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer can include:

  • Pain – People can have pain that spreads from their stomach area around to their back. The pain can come and go, and it can get worse after eating.
  • Weight loss – People might not feel hungry, or might feel full after eating very little.
  • Diarrhea – Bowel movements can look greasy or be difficult to flush in the toilet bowl.
  • Yellowing of the skin, called jaundice – Both the skin and the white part of the eyes can turn yellow. When jaundice happens in people with pancreatic cancer, it is usually because one of the tubes that carry bile from the gallbladder to the intestines is blocked. (The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ that stores bile, a fluid that helps the body break down fat.) If a bile duct gets blocked, it can also cause your bowel movements to look gray instead of brown.

These symptoms can also be caused by conditions that are not pancreatic cancer. But if you have these symptoms, tell your doctor or nurse about them.

Is there a test for pancreatic cancer? 

Yes. If your doctor suspects you have pancreatic cancer, they will order one or more tests. These can include:

  • Blood tests
  • Imaging tests, such as an ultrasound, a CT scan or a test called ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography) – These tests create pictures of the inside of the body and can show abnormal growths.
  • Biopsy – For a biopsy, a doctor takes a small sample of tissue from the pancreas. Then another doctor will look at the sample under a microscope to check for cancer.

What is cancer staging?

Cancer staging is a way in which doctors find out how far a cancer has spread. The right treatment for you will depend a lot on the stage of your cancer. Your treatment will also depend on your age and any other medical problems.

How is pancreatic cancer treated?

People with pancreatic cancer might be offered one or more of the following treatments:

  • Surgery – Pancreatic cancer can sometimes be treated with surgery to remove the cancer. Before surgery, a doctor might do a procedure called "laparoscopy." In a laparoscopy, a doctor will make small cuts in the belly. They will put a thin tube with a camera on it inside the belly to check whether there is spread of cancer outside of the pancreas.
  • Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy is the medical term for medicines that kill cancer cells or stop them from growing.
  • Radiation therapy – Radiation kills cancer cells.

Pancreatic cancer can sometimes be cured with treatment. This is most likely in people whose cancer is found at an early stage. Even if your pancreatic cancer cannot be cured, your doctor can treat your symptoms. For example, they can prescribe medicine or a procedure called a celiac plexus block to reduce your pain.

What happens after treatment?

Following treatment, you will be checked every so often to see if the cancer comes back. Follow up tests usually include exams, blood tests and imaging tests. If the cancer comes back after treatment, you might have chemotherapy or radiation therapy. You might also get pain medicine or other treatments to help with pain.

What else should I do?

It is important to follow all your doctors' instructions about visits and tests. It's also important to talk to your doctor about any side effects or problems you have during treatment.

Getting treated for pancreatic cancer involves making many choices, such as which treatment to have. Always let your doctors and nurses know how you feel about a treatment. Any time you are offered a treatment, ask:

  • What are the benefits of this treatment? Is it likely to help me live longer? Will it reduce or prevent symptoms?
  • What are the downsides to this treatment?
  • Are there other options besides this treatment?
  • What happens if I do not have this treatment?

Prostate Cancer

What is prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer happens when normal cells in the prostate gland change into abnormal cells and grow out of control. The prostate gland makes fluid that is part of semen. This gland sits below the bladder and in front of the rectum, and forms a ring around the urethra, the tube that carries urine out of the body.

Prostate cancer occurs most often in people older than 50. Although prostate cancer is very common, most people do not die from it. This is because prostate cancer usually grows very slowly.

What are the symptoms of prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer often causes no symptoms at first. But if symptoms do occur, they can include:

  • Needing to urinate more often than usual
  • A urine stream that is slower than usual

These symptoms can also be caused by conditions that are not prostate cancer. But if you have these symptoms, you should let your doctor or nurse know.

Is there a test for prostate cancer?

Yes. Doctors use a blood test called a PSA test and an exam called a rectal exam to check for prostate cancer. In a rectal exam, your doctor or nurse puts a finger in your anus and up into your rectum. They press on the rectum wall to feel for abnormal areas on the prostate.

If your doctor or nurse suspects you have prostate cancer, they will follow up with one or more tests. These can include:

  • Biopsy – A doctor will take a small sample of tissue from the prostate. Then another doctor will look at the sample under a microscope to see if it has cancer.
  • Ultrasound, MRI scan or other imaging tests – These tests create images of the inside of the body and can show abnormal growths.

What is cancer staging?

Cancer staging is a way in which doctors find out how far a cancer has spread.

How is prostate cancer treated?

People with prostate cancer often have a choice of treatment. The main treatments for prostate cancer are:

  • Active surveillance – People who choose this option do not have treatment right away. But they do have routine tests to check whether the cancer starts to grow more quickly. If so, they can start active treatment then.
  • Surgery – Prostate cancer can sometimes be treated with surgery to remove the prostate gland.
  • Radiation therapy – Radiation kills cancer cells. Radiation can be given from a machine that moves around your body. Or a doctor might put a source of radiation directly into the prostate gland.
  • Hormone therapy – Male hormones in the body make prostate cancer grow. Hormone therapy reduces the levels of these hormones, which can shrink the cancer. For hormone therapy, people might take medicines, or they might have surgery to remove the testicles. (Male hormones are made in the testicles.) This treatment is usually only for those with advanced cancer. But some people with early stage cancer get it along with radiation or surgery.
  • Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy is the medical term for medicines that kill cancer cells or stop them from growing. People with advanced prostate cancer might get chemotherapy if hormone therapy stops working. In some cases, chemotherapy and hormone therapy are given at the same time.

Some people, especially older people with other serious medical conditions, might choose not to do any of the above. Instead, they might choose "watchful waiting." Watchful waiting is not exactly the same as active surveillance. It does not require regular testing, but involves treating symptoms when they happen.

How do I choose which treatment to have? 

You and your doctor will have to work together to choose the right treatment for you. The right treatment will depend on:

  • The stage of your cancer
  • Your age
  • Whether you have other health problems
  • How you feel about the treatment options

Always let your doctors and nurses know how you feel about a treatment. Any time you are offered a treatment, ask:

  • What are the benefits of this treatment? Is it likely to help me live longer? Will it reduce or prevent symptoms?
  • What are the downsides to this treatment?
  • Are there other options besides this treatment?
  • What happens if I do not have this treatment?

What happens after treatment?

After treatment, some people keep getting checked to see if the cancer comes back or starts growing more quickly. Others choose not to be checked. Follow-up tests can include PSA tests, exams, biopsies or imaging tests.

What happens if the cancer comes back or spreads? 

If the cancer comes back, you might have more radiation therapy, surgery or hormone therapy. You might also have chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is the medical term for medicines that kill cancer cells or stop them from growing.

Can prostate cancer be prevented? 

People who are at high risk of getting prostate cancer can sometimes take a medicine to help prevent the disease. If you have a family history of prostate cancer, talk to your doctor.

Thyroid Cancer

What is thyroid cancer?

Thyroid cancer happens when normal cells in the thyroid change into abnormal cells and grow out of control. The thyroid is a gland in the middle of the neck, and the thyroid gland makes the thyroid hormone. There are different types of thyroid cancer, and some types are more serious than others.

What are the symptoms of thyroid cancer?

Early on, people might not notice any symptoms. They might find out they have thyroid cancer after their doctor does an imaging test of their neck for another reason. Imaging tests create pictures of the inside of the body.

When thyroid cancer causes symptoms, the most common symptom is a growth (called a nodule) on the thyroid gland. This growth usually gets bigger in a short amount of time. In some cases, people see or feel the growth themselves. In other cases, their doctor or nurse feels the growth during a routine exam.

Other symptoms of thyroid cancer can include:

  • Hoarseness or being unable to talk
  • Trouble breathing
  • Trouble swallowing
  • A cough or coughing up blood

All of these symptoms can also be caused by conditions that are not thyroid cancer. But if you have these symptoms, tell your doctor or nurse.

Is there a test for thyroid cancer?

Yes. If you have a growth on your thyroid gland, your doctor will do tests to see whether the growth is cancer or not. (Many growths on the thyroid gland are not cancer.) These tests can include:

  • Imaging tests – The imaging test most often done is an ultrasound, which uses sound waves to create pictures of the thyroid. Some people also have a thyroid scan. For a thyroid scan, a person gets a pill or a shot with a small amount of a radioactive substance. Then a special camera takes a picture of the thyroid.
  • Blood tests
  • Fine needle aspiration – For this test, the doctor uses a thin needle to remove a small sample of tissue from the growth. Then another doctor looks at the tissue under a microscope.

What is cancer staging? 

Cancer staging is a way in which doctors find out if a cancer has spread past the layer of tissue where it began and, if so, how far. The right treatment for you will depend a lot on the type of thyroid cancer you have, its stage and any other medical problems.

How is thyroid cancer treated?

Thyroid cancer is usually treated with one or more of the following:

  • Surgery – In most cases, thyroid cancer is treated with surgery to remove the cancer. Your doctor will remove part or all of your thyroid gland. They might also remove nearby lymph nodes, which are bean-shaped organs that are part of the body's infection-fighting system.
  • Radioactive iodine – Radioactive iodine (also called "radioiodine therapy") comes in a pill or liquid that you swallow. It has a small amount of radiation and can destroy much of the thyroid gland.
  • Thyroid hormone – Your doctor will prescribe thyroid hormone medicines after surgery or radioactive iodine treatment. That way, your body will have the correct amount of thyroid hormone.
  • External-beam radiation therapy – This treatment uses high doses of X-rays, called radiation, to kill cancer cells. The radiation comes from a machine that is outside the body.
  • Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy is the medical term for medicines that kill cancer cells or stop them from growing.

What happens after treatment?

After treatment, your doctor will check you every so often to see if the cancer comes back. Regular follow-up tests include exams, blood tests and imaging tests. Your doctor will also do regular follow-up blood tests to check your thyroid hormone levels.

You should also watch for the symptoms listed above. Having those symptoms could mean your thyroid cancer has come back. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any symptoms.

What happens if my thyroid cancer comes back or spreads?

If your thyroid cancer comes back or spreads, you might have more surgery, radioactive iodine treatment, external-beam radiation or chemotherapy.

What else should I do?

It's important to follow all your doctor's instructions about visits and tests. It's also important to talk to your doctor about any side effects or problems you have during treatment.

Getting treated for thyroid cancer involves making many choices, such as what treatment to have. Always let your doctors and nurses know how you feel about a treatment. Any time you are offered a treatment, ask:

  • What are the benefits of this treatment? Is it likely to help me live longer? Will it reduce or prevent symptoms?
  • What are the downsides to this treatment?
  • Are there other options besides this treatment?
  • What happens if I do not have this treatment?