Don’t Let Your Cancer Doctor Snow You with Big Words
If the “Big C” ever happens to you, here’s how to understand what in the heck your doctor is talking about
Scary. Devastating. Shocking.
Three words that describe what it’s like to get a diagnosis of cancer.
Whether you need it for yourself or a loved one, the following information is essential if you want to understand what’s taking place inside your body, what your doctor is talking about (including the medical jargon), and what to ask your doctor.
To maintain control of your treatment process, it’s critical that you know what the heck your doctors are talking about.
This information will promote you to “captain” of your cancer treatment team. You ALWAYS have the right to say “NO” — and it’s important to know that, because doctors can be very bossy and intimidating. Now you’ll have the knowledge you need to talk back.
Life-threatening vs. non-life-threatening tumors…
Tumors don’t always threaten your life. Doctors use the term “benign” for these types of cancers. “Benign” comes from the Latin words for “kind or generous by nature.”
Contrast that to the word “malignant”… from the same root as malign and malicious. Malignant cancer is characterized by uncontrolled and invasive growth… destructive growth.
Malignant cancer has two major characteristics:
- It puts down roots and burrows into the tissues of your body.
- It spreads through your body by generating enzymes that destroy your tissues, and then sending out “seed” cells to start new growths in other areas of your body.
Cancer cells try to take over your entire system…
It’s the spreading of cancer — or metastasizing — that’s so damaging.
Nearly every kind of cancer is characterized by abnormal cells running rampant through your body, looking for new places to lay down roots and penetrate healthy tissue.
Cancer uses three means of spreading through your system:
- Direct extension — Burrowing deep while expanding into nearby tissue.
- Travelling through the blood — When a tumor grows beyond 7 mm (about ¼ inch) in diameter, it requires a blood supply to bring in nutrients and remove waste. To send out its new “seed” cells, the cancer uses the bloodstream as a transport mechanism.
- Via the lymph nodes — Your lymphatic system is an important part of your immune function. Your lymph nodes filter fluids, and catch viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens, so your white blood cells can kill them. Major groups of lymph nodes are found in your neck, underarms, and groin.
Because some cancers spread through your lymphatic system, your doctor might choose to remove a lymph node near your cancer site to see if it contains malignant tissue.
This becomes a sort of score card to help your doctor determine how advanced your cancer is.
How tumors are named…
Tumors get assigned a category based on where they’re growing, how fast they’re growing, and how big they already are. Although there are nearly 200 types of cancer, there are only three broad categories:
- Carcinoma. Grows in tissues that line internal organs, usually in organs that secrete something. For example, lung tissue secretes mucus, breast tissue secretes milk, prostate tissue secretes the milky fluid in semen, and pancreas tissue secretes digestive juices.
- Sarcoma. Develops in supporting or connective tissue, like muscles, tendons, bones, nerves, and blood vessels. A carcinoma can develop a sarcoma, depending on where it metastasizes.
- Lymphoma and leukemia. Develops in the lymph nodes (lymphoma) or bone marrow (leukemia). Lymphomas are further divided into Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s.
To one of these three terms doctors then add the Latin or Greek name of the organ that’s affected by the cancer. So bone cancer is usually called (by your doctor, at least) “osteo sarcoma”… and stomach cancer “gastric carcinoma.” “Osteo” is the root of the Latin word for “bone” and “gastric” is based on the Latin word for “stomach.”
How doctors define the rate of growth…
If surgery takes place, the surgeon usually removes a section of the tumor and sends it to the pathologist for his best guess about a particular question: “How fast is this cancer growing?” Here’s how they classify the results…
- Well-differentiated tumors — tissue that looks similar to surrounding healthy tissue.
- Undifferentiated tumors — tissue that looks very different and primitive compared to surrounding healthy tissue. Undifferentiated tumors grow faster and have a poorer prognosis than well-differentiated tumors.
- High grade — a poorly differentiated, fast growing, aggressive tumor
- Low grade — a well-differentiated, slow growing and less aggressive tumor
How doctors define the stage of cancer…
Combining the information about where the cancer is growing, how fast it’s growing, and how fast it’s spreading, doctors can tell you what “stage” of cancer you have, and develop a precise plan of therapy.
They call it the TNM system.
- T = Tumor Size. T0 means the tumor was removed through biopsy. T1 is a smaller size tumor, and T2, T3, and T4 are larger.
- N = Number of lymph nodes positive for cancer. N0 means no lymph nodes with cancer… N1, N2, and N3 indicate increasing levels of lymph node involvement.
- M = Presence and degree of Metastasis. M0 means no metastases found. M1 means that metastases were found.
So, for instance, a breast cancer diagnosis might come back:
- T2 (tumor is 2.5 cm=1 inch in diameter)
- N1 (1 lymph node near breast found with malignant cells)
- M0 (no evidence of metastasis.)
Some oncologists use a more big-picture rating system:
- Stage 1 (no metastasis)
- Stage 2A
- Stage 2B
- Stage 3A
- Stage 3B
- Stage 4 (considerable metastasis)
What is cancer and how does It spread?
Cancer at its most basic level is a collection of abnormal cells.
Your body has 60 trillion cells working in harmony to keep you well. This amazing system functions smoothly for most people most of the time.
So what can make this huge cell system go wrong?
It’s cell replication that generally goes wrong. Cell replication is the amazing process by which your cells generate copies of themselves. It’s how one cell divides itself to create two new cells.
Each cell contains a full “library” off all the information needed to create your entire body. It’s called DNA. In cell replication, a cell splits its DNA in half, copies the DNA for each half, then creates new cells that carry on life.
Unfortunately, this replication process can occasionally produce defective cells, which can then become cancer, or tumors.
How you carry the seeds of your own destruction…
You, in fact, carry the seeds of your own destruction in your DNA. They’re called oncogenes — genetic messages that give the “yes” signal to cancer.
These genes in essence “load the gun” — and then your lifestyle choices “pull the trigger”.
Other issues of this newsletter contain information about your lifestyle choices and the impact they can have on your chance of getting cancer. Estimates are that lifestyle accounts for at least 90% of your risk factors, leaving your genes to play only a 5-10% role.
That’s great news for you!
It means that just because other family members have succumbed to cancer doesn’t mean you have to. And, it puts you squarely in charge of your own cancer prevention team.
Tools your doctor might use in the diagnostic process
- Physical exam — The starting point. Your doctor will examine lymph nodes for signs of swelling, perform a Pap smear for cervical cancer, etc.
- Blood tests — Certain markers in your blood can be non-specific indicators of cancer. Many doctors run a battery of tests with every routine check-up. You’re entitled to your records, so I suggest you ask your doctor for a copy of your blood work results, and you can track trends in your numbers over time — and have an historical perspective on your numbers as background when discussing your health with your doctor, or when talking with a new doctor.
- Tumor markers — These are substances in your blood that indicate whether the cancer is getting better or worse. Please note that none of these markers are perfect. All have a tendency to give false negatives (test came back negative, but you do have cancer) and false positives (test came back positive, but you do not have cancer).
Examples might include:
- CEA — may be elevated in cancers of the colon, breast, lung, and pancreas.
- CA-125 — elevated in ovarian and uterine cancer.
- CA 19-9 — elevated in GI tract cancer, such as colon, pancreas, stomach, and liver.
- CA 15-3 — elevated in breast cancer
- AFP — elevated in liver and testis cancer
- HCG — elevated during pregnancy and cancers of the testis, ovary, and lung.
- PAP — elevated in prostate cancer.
- PSA — elevated in prostate cancer.
- Serum protein electrophoresis — elevated in multiple myeloma.
- Tests of your blood, urine, feces and spinal fluid — Your doctor might do any of these.
- Imaging techniques — These enable a doctor to look inside you without literally cutting you open.
- X-ray (radiography) — Can see through tissue and identify differences in tissue density (tumor vs. healthy). X-ray can easily tell the difference between bone and soft tissue.
- Soft tissue scans — Nuclear scans, CT (computerized tomography), MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), and ultra-sound.
- PET (positron emission tomography) — Doctor injects radioactively labeled glucose into your blood stream, and then uses a device to locate the glucose. Because cancer is a sugar feeder, the radiation-tagged sugar will tend to congregate near tumors.
- Inspection with a scope — Inserted in various parts of your body to find cancer. A bronchoscope examines your lungs… a cytoscope checks your urethra and bladder… an endoscope sees into your stomach and colon. Flexible fiber optic telescopes can also remove tissue for later examination.
- Biopsy — Surgical removal of the suspect tissue for a pathologist to examine for cancer stage and protocol recommendations.
Two types of biopsy include:
- Incisional — Cutting into the tumor, removing part of it, and stitching it closed.
- Excisional — Removing the entire tumor.
A word of warning…
Bear in mind that each of these types of testing can have its own set of side effects, including causing any existing cancer to spread. This has been seen with mammograms. You can learn more about the risks of mammograms and biopsies from our special report, Beat Breast & Prostate Cancer without Surgery, Chemo and Radiation.
My best advice is to live such a “clean” lifestyle that you never need these tests except for routine blood work. But the purpose of this article is to explain what your doctor may want to do to diagnose your illness.
Please research the test(s) they recommend before consenting to them, for your own information and peace of mind.
Your typical cancer team…
There are clinics that achieve excellent results with simple, completely safe treatments — and without side effects such as hair loss, nausea, and worse. I recommend you check them out in our Special Reports Cancer Breakthrough USA, German Cancer Breakthrough, and Adios, Cancer. These reports deal with the best alternative cancer clinics we’ve been able to find in the U.S., Germany and Mexico, respectively.
But if you decide on conventional cancer treatment, here’s a list of the “standard” doctors on a typical cancer team in a mainstream hospital.
Always remember that YOU (or a trusted advocate) are the captain of your treatment team. As captain, you hold the final say.
- Oncologist — MD or DO (Doctor of Osteopathy) with specialized training in cancer and chemotherapy.
- Radiologist — MD or DO with specialized training in diagnostic use of x-ray, MRI and CT scans.
- Radiation Oncologist — MD or DO with specialized training in radiation therapy treatments.
- Surgical Oncologist — MD or DO with specialized training in surgical removal of cancer masses.
- Pain Management Specialist — MD or DO specializing in dealing with the pain that comes with cancer.
- Internist — MD or DO with training in internal medicine and the biochemistry of how your body works.
Each year, 1.4 million Americans are newly diagnosed with cancer. More than 50% of those will have one of these common cancers:
- Prostate cancer — 232,000
- Breast cancer — 212,000
- Lung cancer — 172,000
- Colorectal cancer — 144,000
But the bottom line is that each of these starts with an abnormal growth that could multiply exponentially because of poor food choices, organ failure, or infection.
Nutrition can improve the outcome of nearly any type of cancer, regardless of which type of medical therapy you choose.
Health Disclaimer: The information provided above is not intended as personal medical advice or instructions. You should not take any action affecting your health without consulting a qualified health professional. The authors and publishers of the information above are not doctors or health-caregivers. The authors and publishers believe the information to be accurate but its accuracy cannot be guaranteed. There is some risk associated with ANY cancer treatment, and the reader should not act on the information above unless he or she is willing to assume the full risk.
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