Understanding cancer

Cancer is a broad name for a disease that starts when mutated cells grow abnormally and out of control. This can start just about anywhere in our body (because we have trillions of cells). Normal cell cycles help keep us healthy. New cells grow, old cells die and so the dance continues. If certain cells get damaged and don’t die (like they should), they may just keep getting more out of whack. And because healthy cells are continuing to grow so they can replace those old or damaged cells, our body may end up with too many — and those extra cells can divide and replicate, which may form a tumor. Sometimes that tumor is benign (noncancerous), but other times it may be malignant (cancerous).1

A common theme with cancer is early detection. Below, you can explore lots of information on how you can stay on top of your health with regular preventive cancer screenings, if and when they’re available. Plus, get tips on how to help reduce your risk of developing certain cancers. Coping with a cancer diagnosis can bring on a range of emotions and concerns. Learning basic information about each of the different types of cancer may help you and your family and friends understand and cope better. 

Breast cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women.2 The key to early detection and diagnosis is knowing about breast cancer tests and screenings and learning which one may be best for you. Things like mammograms, clinical breast exams, self-exams, ultrasounds and MRIs are all tools that may help catch early signs of breast cancer and may make treatment more effective. Be sure to have the conversation about breast cancer screenings with your doctor. Your health, family history and risk factors play a role in when to get regular screenings.

Cervical cancer

There are two important screening tests that help spot cervical cancer — the Pap smear and human papilloma virus (HPV) test.3 Because early cervical cancers and precancers typically don’t cause symptoms, it’s important to get screened regularly to catch signs of cancer before it spreads. The good news is you’ll likely only need to have one of those screening tests. And, if your results come back just fine, you may be able to wait a few years in between tests.Knowing the risk factors and what you can do to help prevent cervical cancer can help with getting good-news test results.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy (also called chemo) is a medicine that uses natural and artificial chemicals to kill fast-growing cells in your body, like cancers. Chemo can be used on its own or along with other treatments. It's often used to help shrink a tumor before surgery or radiation, destroy any remaining cancer cells after surgery or radiation, enhance other cancer treatments or kill cancer cells that have come back or spread.4 Chemotherapy may be effective, but it may cause side effects (like common hair loss). Let’s get to know the types of chemotherapy and what you may expect if you or a loved one are having chemotherapy treatments.

Colorectal (colon) cancer

The colon (large intestine) is the main player in our digestive tract. It does all the work so our bodies can absorb nutrients from food and eliminate the things we don’t need. Colon cancer happens when polyps in the colon or rectum form and, over time, turn into cancer. Regular screenings and other tests may help spot suspicious polyps early before they become a problem. Talk with your doctor about which test might be best for you and when you should consider getting screened — and then be sure to stay on top of it to help reduce your risk over time.

Lung cancer

Lung cancer doesn’t just happen to people who smoke cigarettes. Anyone exposed to harmful toxins might develop tumors inside their chest. Thanks to advances in early detection and treatment, case numbers are on the decline.5 And, there are a handful of risk factors that are in your control (like tobacco and chemical exposure). Your doctor will help you decide if may be at a high risk for developing lung cancer and what you can do to help catch it early.

Ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer develops in the ovaries or fallopian tubes. And because these tumors are hidden inside the female reproductive system, they may not be found early. However, things like pelvic exams, imaging and blood tests can be used to help catch early signs of ovarian cancer. While there’s no guaranteed way to prevent it, there may be some lifestyle habits and life events that may help lower your risk.

Prostate cancer

Most cases of prostate cancer grow slowly over time, which is why early and regular screenings are so important. Usually, once men turn 50, their doctor might recommend routine screenings. And because only advanced tumors typically cause symptoms, you can’t always rely on your body to tell you if something is wrong. Talk with your doctor about lifestyle habits to help lower your risk and when to start having regular screenings.

Skin cancer

If you grew up spending a lot of time in the sun, it might be time to start thinking about your skin health. While we need a good dose of vitamin D, many of us end up  with a harmful exposure to the sun during our lifetimes. That damages our skin and may lead to skin cancer. Self-checks and regular visits to your dermatologist are two ways to stay on top of any suspicious changes to your skin. Plus, there are lots of things you can do to help prevent sun damage in the future. 

Testicular cancer

Testicular cancer starts in the male reproductive system and is actually quite rare. Self-checks and regular exams from your doctor are ways to catch possible cancer early (like a lump). Or, you may notice certain signs and symptoms that might be related to testicular cancer. Listening to your body, keeping track of changes and knowing your risk factors can help you stay in control and on top of your manhood health.

Footnotes

  1. What is Cancer? - National Cancer Institute cancer.gov, 2021.
  2. Breast Cancer Facts & Figures | American Cancer Society cancer.org, 2021.
  3. The HPV Test cancer.org, 2020.
  4. Chemotherapy to Treat Cancer | cancer.gov
  5. Lung Cancer Statistics | How Common is Lung Cancer? cancer.org, 2020.