Types of Cancer and Treatments

Cancer is when cells grow and divide too quickly, forming a mass of tissue (tumor). It can also spread to other parts of the body through blood or lymph — this is called secondary cancer or metastasis. There are more than 200 different types of cancer. Each type affects different cells and organs in the body. Cancer treatments are designed to remove the cancerous cells or kill them, and stop the cancer from growing or spreading. Some treatments may work better for some people than others. Your doctor will recommend 2 or more treatments, often together.

Early warning signs of cancer can be similar to the flu or other conditions. They include a pain or lump that doesn’t go away, weight loss, sores that won’t heal, unexplained bleeding and blood in your poop or urine. Your doctor will do tests to find out if the cancer is affecting your organs and whether it has spread from where it started. This is known as the cancer’s stage. The lower the stage, the less the cancer has spread.

Your genes are the blueprint for your body’s cells. Changes (mutations) in some of these genes can cause cells to grow and divide too much and form cancer. Mutations can also change proteins that repair damaged cells. These mutations can happen spontaneously or be inherited.

About 5-10% of cancers are caused by inherited genetic mutations. But 90-95% of cancers are caused by lifestyle and environmental factors. These include cigarette smoking, diet (fried and red meats), alcohol, exposure to sun and chemicals, infections, stress and physical inactivity.

Some cancers are very hard to treat because the immune system can’t fight them. The good news is that researchers are constantly improving and expanding treatment options.

Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Chemotherapy is a group of drugs that targets cancer cells and stops them from growing and dividing. It can be taken by mouth or injected into a vein (IV). A type of radiation therapy, called external beam radiation, uses x-rays or particles to kill the cancer cells.

Other types of treatment focus on removing hormones from the body that fuel some cancers, such as breast and prostate cancer. Hormones can also block cancer cell growth, so removing or blocking them can help stop cancers from returning.

New treatments are changing how cancer is treated and reducing the number of deaths from the disease. These advances are based on scientific research that looks at how certain things, like genes and the environment, affect a person’s risk for cancer. Some kinds of cancer can be prevented by avoiding risk factors, like avoiding smoking and having regular screenings. Other prevention efforts include eating well, exercising regularly and being careful in the sun.