Frequently Asked Questions

What is cancer?

Cancer develops when cells begin to divide rapidly and grow out of control.  Normal healthy cells within the body have regulators that initiate cell growth and death. When this mechanism is disrupted or is ineffective the cells then begin to grow at a rate that is not controlled and become abnormal. These abnormal cells can then invade surrounding tissues and potentially break away where they can travel to distant regions of the body.

What is the difference between a benign tumor and a malignant tumor?

Benign refers to a tumor, which is not cancerous; they remain localized meaning they do not spread to other parts of the body. These types of tumors are usually removed surgically.

 Malignant tumors on the other hand are cancerous. These cells are abnormal and divide rapidly and can move to other parts of the body through the lymphatic system or through the bloodstream.

What does metastasis mean?

This is when the cancer moves from its original origin to a different part of the body. Once this takes place these traveler cells begin to then grow and divide producing more abnormal cell and destroy healthy tissue.

Are all cancers the same?

No. The type of cancer you have depends on the first spot the cancer developed in. The primary site could be in blood, lymph nodes, muscle, bone, or in any organ such as the lung, liver, pancreas, or breast.

What does the stage of my cancer mean?

Doctors use staging techniques to determine to what extent the cancer has progressed, if at all. Staging allows us to better evaluate the size of the tumor, the location, whether or not lymph nodes are involved, and if the cancer has spread to other regions of the body. It is very important for the doctor and the patient to understand how aggressive the type of cancer is in order to develop the most promising treatment plan for each particular type of cancer and the stage of that cancer.

What type of treatment options are there for someone with cancer?

Treatment options vary depending on the stage and type of cancer found. Options available include; surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy and immunotherapy. These options may be used alone or in conjunction with one another depending on what treatment plan has shown to be effective through research and trials for your particular type of cancer.

What is radiation therapy?

Radiation therapy uses high energy rays to kill cancer cells. It is used for different reasons which include, shrinking the cancer prior to surgery, used after surgery to reduce the risk of cancer returning, in conjunction with chemotherapy, alone, or to reduce symptoms the cancer may be causing when the cancer is to advanced for curative measures.

What is a radiation oncologist?

A radiation oncologist is a physician with specialty training in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and how radiation can be used to benefit cancer patients. Oncologists are physicians that specialize in cancer treatment, and there are different types of oncologists. In addition to radiation oncologists, there are also medical oncologists, who specialize in the treatment of cancer with medicines (drugs). Surgical oncologists are physicians trained in the treatment of cancer with surgery. Gynecologic oncologists are physicians trained in the treatment of gynecologic cancers with surgery and/or drugs. There are orthopedic oncologists, neuro-oncologists, and so on. There are many other physicians involved in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer even though they do not have “oncologist” in their name. Which of these specialists you may need to see depends on the type of cancer you have.

Who needs to see a radiation oncologist?

Many types of cancer can be treated by radiation alone or in combination with another form of treatment. If you have a diagnosis or suspect cancer, you should ask your physician if it could be helpful for you to have a consultation with a Radiation Oncologist. Sometimes there may be differences of opinion between cancer specialists about whether radiation could be the best treatment in a given case. These differences of opinion are best addressed by collaboration between a team of physicians, and the Radiation Oncologist is a member of every complete cancer treatment team. If radiation is a possible option, a complete opinion from the Radiation Oncologist requires a face to face consultation with the patient, including a complete evaluation.

How does radiation work?

Radiation passes into your body and into your cancer to cause damage to the cancer. The radiation cannot be seen, felt, heard, or smelled—it is like a ray of light you cannot see. You may have heard of ultraviolet light that can come from the sun and enters your body even though you cannot see it. Radiation that is used to treat cancer has a much higher energy than ultraviolet light and does more injury along its path. It injures both good cells and cancer cells, but the good cells have built-in mechanisms to repair the radiation damage, while the cancer cells do not. This advantage was discovered by chance over 100 years ago, and radiation has been used to treat cancers ever since, with many advancements and refinements along the way.

What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is a classification of medications that are known to destroy cancer cells and slow down the progression of the disease. Chemotherapy comes in many different forms and can be administered in different ways. Some chemotherapy medications are given in a pill form, some by intravenous infusions, or in the form of an injection. The type you receive depends on the type of cancer you have.

Why surgery?

Surgery can often be used to help determine the diagnosis of cancer. Surgery is also used to remove the cancer and the surrounding tissue affected. However surgery in the effort to remove the cancer is not an option for everyone. This decision is left up to the surgeon. Some cancers invade major organs such as the brain or lungs for example. Damage to these organs may not be permissible to life or the quality of life.  Therefore it is up to the patient and the surgeon to discuss the risk of having the surgery versus not having surgery.

What is hormone therapy?

Certain types of cancer such as breast and prostate cancer can be treated with hormones by altering the level of hormones in the body.

What is immunotherapy?

This treatment is a way to try and mimic the body’s natural immune system to aid in the fight against cancer. Natural proteins found in the body are used in order to trigger the immune system. When the immune system is activated it sends a signal to the bone marrow to produce more white blood cells to kill cancer cells.

What are common side effects of radiation therapy?

The most common radiation therapy side effects include:

  • Skin problems (dryness, itching, blistering or peeling)
  • Fatigue

You may experience side effects that are specific to the radiation therapy location. For instance, head and neck radiation therapy side effects may include dry mouth, mouth and gum sores, and difficulty swallowing. Stomach and abdomen radiation therapy may cause nausea and vomiting or diarrhea. Learn more about the potential side effects of your specific type of cancer by visiting the My Healing Plan patient portal.

What should I do if I begin to have side effects?

Tell your health care provider as soon as you start to develop any of these side effects. Prior to starting chemotherapy your health care team should advise you of possible side effects and what they recommend you do in this case. There are many medications that can be given to help alleviate these symptoms.

Will I lose my hair?

Radiation therapy does not cause hair loss. Not every one who receives chemotherapy will loose their hair. This depends on the type of chemo you receive. There are some agents that have demonstrated hair loss where other agents did not.

Why do I feel so fatigued?

Fatigue is a symptom caused often times by anemia. Anemia is the result of a decrease in the number of circulating red blood cells in the bloodstream. Red blood cells are primarily responsible for delivering oxygen to all our organs and tissues. Oxygen is essential to carry out all of the body’s requirements. Hence when there is a reduction in the amount of oxygen being distributed to our cells the body gets easily tired.

What can I do to reduce feelings of fatigue?

Talk with your doctor first so the reason behind the fatigue can be evaluated.
 Listen to your body do not over-exert yourself, and allow yourself time to rest throughout the day.
 If the fatigue is anemia related, there are medications that could help correct the anemia.

What if I experience nausea/vomiting?

Call your doctor. There are many medications that can help alleviate these symptoms. It is very important that your let you doctor know if you have been experiencing vomiting and how often. Vomiting can put you at risk for dehydration and an imbalance in essential electrolytes required by the body.

What should I do if I have diarrhea?

Call your doctor. Be sure to tell the doctor how often you are having loose stools. This can be treated with medications. Diarrhea can place you at risk for dehydration so do not underestimate the impact diarrhea can have on your body.

What if I get constipated?

Call your doctor. Your physician can advise you on over the counter medications or provide a prescription to help alleviate your symptoms.

When should I call the doctor?

  • Fever 100.5 F. degrees or greater
  • Uncontrollable nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Pain is not well controlled
  • Chest pain or shortness of breath
  • Severe shaking or chills
  • Bleeding from any location including skin, nose, gums and genital areas
  • Blood in the urine or stool
  • Black, tarry bowel movement
  • Changes to skin at site of radiation therapy
  • Constipation with intense abdominal cramping
  • Changes in your vision or hearing

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If are showing any of the symptoms listed on this page, are prone to the risks listed above, or are seeking more information on available treatment options, please click on the button below. Conveniently located in Statesboro, GA, our friendly, courteous staff is always willing to answer questions, and we make every effort to make your visit as comfortable as possible.

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