Educational Information about Cancer



     Educational information about cancer

     Breaking the News

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Gain control and clarity over your new situation by learning the language of cancer. 

Receiving a cancer diagnosis can feel like waking up in a foreign country, where you don’t know the language and  and you don't a map to find your way, through the maze of cancer, back home. You can be thrown into a world of new experiences and a new kind of fear.

In the first weeks after your diagnosis, you’ll likely meet with an array of different specialists, undergo a variety of tests, and encounter a whole new language related to your cancer and treatment. While the language of cancer can be intimidating, learning the basics can help you gain control of your new situation and give you clarity as you make important decisions about your treatment. Education is your greatest tool and for everyone involved in this process.


Nature of a Cancer - by Timus Smith

The cancer patient has permitted cells that are 'not him' to grow in his body without activating his defense mechanisms sufficiently to destroy them. The tumor is a foreign entity that does not respect him and finally destroys him, without even respecting structures such as blood vessels, muscles, lymph nodes. It grows by transgressing every structure, every border.

We can easily understand what happens when we compare the individual with cancer to a country that has borders and an army to defend its integrity as a country. If an enemy soldier crosses the border and establishes himself inside the country and the army is not well-trained enough to capture the enemy, to imprison or kill him, the enemy will call his friends and other soldiers will pass the border and settle down. Their base will be stronger and stronger.

Without any respect for the original people, they will destroy everything around them which is not to their own advantage and will take all the food that was intended for the indigenous people. They will send soldiers to other places in the country (metastasis) to take over all the power of the country. The only possibility the country has finally is to ask other countries to help it and to attack the enemy with heavy weapons (surgery, radiation and chemotherapy). But such a massive fight greatly weakens the country and the outcome is very uncertain. On the cellular level the same process takes place. The membrane of the cell is unstable and weak and the cell is ingesting toxins, not able to defend its integrity. These ingested poisons damage its normal functioning, creating anarchy and estranging itself from its own essence."

Cancer cells, like bullies, are looking for potential “victims”. They tend to pick a body with a low defense (immune) system, an immune system that is out of balance for many different reasons (toxic chemicals, toxic emotions, suppressed emotions, lack of good and healthy nutrients, smoking, alcohol, stress, traumas and so on). When the mind – body connection is out of balance and the immune system weak to stand up to the cancer cells, then cancer can cause havoc in the body and destroy the life force of it with fatal consequences.

That is why you must do everything you can to strengthen your body as best as you can. You need to nourish your healthy cells, your immune system and your soul to stand up to the “aggressor”, the cancer cell. You must create healthy boundaries to prohibit the dominant invasion of the pushy cancer cells spreading through your body.



 Learn the Language of Cancer

Cancer Staging

For the past 50 years  most doctors have come to rely on what’s known as the TNM system.

After cancer has been diagnosed, doctors ask the following three questions to determine how far the disease has progressed:

  • How large is the tumor, and how deeply has it invaded surrounding tissues?

  • Have cancer cells spread to regional lymph nodes?

Has the cancer spread (metastasized) to other regions of the body?

Based on the answers to these questions, the cancer is assigned a "stage." A patient's chances for survival are better when cancer is detected at a lower stage and grades so your doctor can learn more about it and treat it effectively. 


Staging involves learning how extensive the cancer is:

- how large the Tumor is 

N - if it has spread to the Lymph nodes   

M - if there is any Metastasis.

TNM classifies cancer using three categories: T (tumor), N (lymph nodes), and M (metastasis). T measures the primary tumor and the extent to which it has spread into neighboring tissues. N gauges whether and how much the cancer has spread into the regional, or nearby, lymph nodes. M records whether the cancer has metastasized, or spread, to a distant area of the body.

Your oncologist assigns each of these categories a number that can range from 0 to 4, such as T3 or N1. 

The numbers after the letters indicate how much the cancer has spread.

For instance, T2 N1 M0 would mean the tumor is about    1 cm in diameter, involving one or more lymph nodes, with no known metastasis.


Stages range from 0 to IV.

Stage 0 - the tumor has not spread to nearby tissue and measures no ore than 2 cm.

Stage I - cancers are localized to one part of the body and invasive but without known metastasis.

 Stages II & III - more advanced, usually with lymph node involvement.

Stage IV - progressive, typically with metastasis.

Grading involves learning how aggressive the cancer is - ranging from least to most aggressive. The higher the grade, the more aggressive / faster growing is the tumor.

Grades range from I to IV. Cancers that look more aggressive require different treatment.

The stage and grade of the cancer is very important to your choice of treatment options.


 The five stages of Breast Cancer

Stage I- Stage I describes invasive breast cancer (cancer cells are breaking through to or invading neighboring normal tissue) in which:

• The tumor measures up to 2 centimeters, AND
• No lymph nodes are involved.

Stage II - Stage II is divided into subcategories known as IIA and IIB.

Stage II A describes invasive breast cancer in which:
  • No tumor can be found in the breast, but cancer cells are found in the axillary lymph nodes (the lymph nodes under the arm), OR

  • The tumor measures 2 centimeters or less and has spread to the axillary lymph nodes, OR

  • The tumor is larger than 2 centimeters but not larger than 5 centimeters and has not spread to the axillary lymph nodes.

Stage II B describes invasive breast cancer in which:
  • The tumor is larger than 2 but no larger than 5 centimeters and has spread to the axillary lymph nodes,
  • OR The tumor is larger than 5 centimeters but has not spread to the axillary lymph nodes.
Stage III Stage III is divided into subcategories known as IIIA, IIIB, and IIIC.

Stage IIIA describes invasive breast cancer in which either:
  • No tumor is found in the breast. Cancer is found in axillary lymph nodes that are clumped together or sticking to other structures, or cancer may have spread to lymph nodes near the breastbone,
  • OR The tumor is 5 centimeters or smaller and has spread to axillary lymph nodes that are clumped together or sticking to other structures.
Stage IIIB describes invasive breast cancer in which:

• The tumor may be any size and has spread to the chest wall and/or skin of the breast AND

• May have spread to axillary lymph nodes that are clumped together or sticking to other structures, or cancer may have spread to lymph nodes near the breastbone

• Inflammatory breast cancer is considered at least stage IIIB.
Stage IIIC describes invasive breast cancer in which:
• There may be no sign of cancer in the breast or, if there is a tumor, it may be any size and may have spread to the chest wall and/or the skin of the breast, AND
• The cancer has spread to lymph nodes above or below the collarbone,

• The cancer may have spread to axillary lymph nodes or to lymph nodes near the breastbone.
Stage IV
Stage IV describes invasive breast cancer in which:
The cancer has spread to other organs of the body - usually the lungs, liver, bone, or brain

"Metastatic at presentation" means that the breast cancer has spread beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes, even though this is the first diagnosis of breast cancer. The reason for this is that the primary breast cancer was not found when it was only inside the breast. Metastatic cancer is considered stage IV.


There are special criteria cells have to meet in order to be eligible for cancer duty. A cell is capable of:

  • Dividing and growing when it should not
  • Invading surrounding areas
  • Getting into the bloodstream
  • Traveling to other parts of the body
  • Establishing secondary tumors at distant sites
  • Producing toxic substances that weaken the body

The primary site is the place where the cancer cells begin to be contrary. It is the original site of the cancer. Here, these defiant cells grow and multiply in an uncontrolled manner to form a mass, called a primary tumor.

A secondary tumor is when the cancer spreads from the primary site. Even though it is a secondary tumor, it is the same make-up as the primary tumor. In other words, if the cancer begins in the breast and metastasizes to the lung, the tumors in the lung are breast cancer secondary tumors and will behave like breast cancer, not like lung cancer. In some cases, secondary tumors grow faster than primary tumors, and may actually be noticed first.

Metastasis is when cancer spreads. When cancer cells metastasize, they can:

  • Travel throughout the body in the liquid portion of the blood,
  • Travel in clumps,
  • Arrive at a distant site and form a tumor, and
  • Establish a blood supply to obtain their own nutrients. Developing a blood supply (angiogenesis) is extremely important for the tumor - without it the tumor would not be able to grow. Cancer cells can also metastasize by entering the bloodstream (lymphatic system), thereby traveling to other parts of the body, forming tumors and infiltrating organs.

Cancer cells form masses -lumps - called tumors, which can be benign (non cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Benign tumors are generally slow growing, do not spread to other parts of the body, can be removed by surgery, and rarely grow back. Malignant tumors can spread and invade and / or destroy nearby tissue, and are generally fast growing. 

Progression: The growth of a tumor or the spread of cancer throughout the body is a progression. If cancer appears to be in remission but it comes back after less than three months, it’s most likely a progression, not a recurrence.

Remission: When diagnostic tests show that cancer is no longer present, the cancer is in remission. Some doctors use this term and NED (no evidence of disease) interchangeably. While cancer cells may remain, they’re undetectable.

 Stable Disease: A cancer that is neither growing nor getting smaller in response to treatment is said to be stable.   

Recurrence: This indicates the return of cancer after a time of remission.

Cancer can arise in many sites and behave differently depending on its organ of origin. Breast cancer, for example, has different characteristics than lung cancer. It is important to understand that cancer originating in one body organ takes its characteristics with it even if it spreads to another part of the body. For example, metastatic breast cancer in the lungs continues to behave like breast cancer when viewed under a microscope, and it continues to look like a cancer that originated in the breast.

Scientists use a variety of technical names to distinguish the many different types of carcinomas, sarcomas, lymphomas, and leukemias. In general, these names are created by using different Latin prefixes that stand for the location where the cancer began its unchecked growth. For example, the prefix "osteo" means bone, so a cancer arising in bone is called an osteosarcoma. Similarly, the prefix "adeno" means gland, so a cancer of gland cells is called adenocarcinoma--for example, a breast adenocarcinoma. 



Cancer types can be grouped into broader categories:

  • Carcinoma - cancer that begins in the skin or in tissues that line or cover internal organs.

  • Sarcoma - cancer that begins in bone, cartilage, fat, muscle, blood vessels, or other connective or supportive tissue.  Tumors in fatty tissue are called liposarcomas, and bone tumors are called osteosarcomas.

  • Leukemia - cancer that starts in blood-forming tissue, such as bone marrow, and produces large numbers of abnormal blood cells that enter the bloodstream.

  • Lymphoma and myeloma - cancers that begin in the cells of the immune system.

  • Central nervous system cancers - cancers that begin in the tissues of the brain and spinal cord.

  • Blastoma (embryonic tissue),

  • Teratoma (tissue derived from ectoderm, mesoderm and endoderm embryonic germ layers), and

  • Neoplasm (named after founding physician - Hodgkins lymphoma, Kaposis sarcoma).

    Cell types are:

    Adenomatous (ductal or glandular cells), start in the cells covering a gland, such as the ovaries. squamous cell carcinomas form in the cells covering other internal tissues, such as the cervix or lungs. 80% of tumors are classified as carcinomas.

  • Squamous (flat cells), squamous cell carcinomas form in the cells covering other internal tissues, such as the cervix or lungs. 80% of tumors are classified as carcinomas.

  • Myeloid (blood cells), and Lymphoid (lymphocytes or macrophages). Myelomas, cancers that start in plasma cells found in bone marrow, were once considered uncommon but are now diagnosed much more often.

  • The site of the tumors origin is where the cancer first originated and may indicate the founders name and/or type of tissue and/or cell type. For example: bone cancer - osteosarcoma, Ewings sarcoma; eye cancer - retinoblastoma; or breast cancer - breast carcinoma of ductal cells.

  • Cancer is a group of over 100 diseases. It is a life-threatening disease, but it is not always fatal.

Cancer treatment can take many different forms, and it is always tailored to the individual patient. Treatment decisions depend on:

  • The type and location of cancer
  • The extent to which the cancer has already spread
  • The patient's age, sex, and general health status
  • The patient's personal treatment preferences

The conventional cancer treatment is to remove all or as much of the tumor as possible and prevent the recurrence or spread of the primary tumor.


The Immune System - a major defense player

The immune system plays a major role in helping your body fight cancer. Here are some of the forces on the front line:

  • The lymphatic system which includes lymphatic vessels, lymph nodes, and the spleen, helps the body to cleanse itself of bacteria and other harmful substances.

  • Leukocytes, or white blood cells, protect the body by repairing damaged cells, killing foreign organisms, and helping heal injured tissue.

  • Protein molecules called antibodies are created when the immune system detects an antigen - a bacteria, virus, or other invader. Each antibody is uniquely designed to destroy a specific antigen.

  • Natural Killer, or NK, cells patrol the body, looking for cancerous cells and viruses. Unlike antibodies, NK cells carry about 100 poisonous chemical substances and can destroy intruders quickly, without ever having seen them before.


 Next page:  Breaking the News




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