Thursday, January 28, 2010

Getting Started and Taking Charge: Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis

The most powerful tools to guide your journey through thyroid cancer is knowledge. Learning about your condition can give you confidence, comfort and help you feel more in control.

Your cancer diagnosis has no doubt brought uncertainty and questions into your life. It's easy to feel a bit out of control right now. With decisions to make about treatment  and care, figuring out where to begin and what to do next can be confusing.

It's important to remember that you are not alone. Your health care team is ready to create the best plan with you. The emotional support from your family and friends also will help you make sense of it all. By knowing your diagnosis and treatment options, finding answers to your concerns, and managing your information, you will have greater confidence, feel more empowered, and be comfortable with the choices you make.


What is Cancer?

Learning about your cancer is the first step in gaining knowledge and control over your situation. Your physician and other members of your health care team can supply you with trustworthy information and resources. Cancer is not ONE disease, but a group of diseases characterized by the abnormal growth of cells  in the body. This abnormal cell growth can result in the formation of malignant (cancerous) tumors (lumps, cysts, nodules, masses) in the body.

In some cancers, such as leukemia, the cancer cells do not form tumors. Known as hemotological malignantcies, they form instead specifically in the blood or bone marrow. Cancer TYPE refers to the organ or type of cell where the cancer started. One difference between cancerous and non-cancerous conditions is that cancer spread from where it started to different areas of the body. This process is called metastasis.


Take time to learn as much as you can about your type of cancer. Ask a lot of questions. Your physician can help you understand your diagnosis and treatment goals. After understanding your diagnosis, the next important step is for your medical team to determine if your cancer has spread to any other parts of your body (metastasized). This will help to indicate what stage of cancer you have.

Each stage may require a different treatment approach. Some cancers, such as leukemia, may not have stages. To pinpoint the exact stage your doctor may order scans of different parts of your body, perform a clinical examination, and/or run various tests.


[ T ] - Refers to the size of the tumor.

[ N ] - Indicates the number of lymph nodes involved.

[ M ] - Refers to the presence of metastasis.

TNM staging measures the extent of disease by evaluating these three aspects of the cancer. Generally, the lower the stage, the better the expected outcome or prognosis. More information is also gathered by the pathologist. 

The pathologist looks at your cancer cells under a microscope and performs laboratory tests on those cells. This doctor may be able to tell if you have a SLOWER-GROWING or a FASTER-GROWING cancer.  referred to as "the grade of cancer". Your pathologist might also look for characteristics known as "tumor markers."  All of this information is what helps your primary doctor and your oncologist work with you to select your therapy and develop a treatment plan.


STAGE 0   Pre Cancer.

STAGE 1   Small Cancer found only in the organ where it started.

STAGE 2  Larger Cancer  found that may or may not have spread to the lymph nodes.

STAGE 3  Larger Cancer found that is also in the lymph nodes.

STAGE 4  Metastatic Cancer or cancer found  in a different organ from where it started.

For more information please talk to your family doctor.

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