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FAQ: What Causes Cancer and More

When you or a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, there is a lot of information to absorb. Let’s look at a few of the most commonly asked questions about cancer.

What is cancer?

The cells in your body are made to grow normally and then die when they’ve served their purpose, to be replaced by new, healthy cells. However, some cells keep growing and changing, even if they are no longer needed. These cells are considered abnormal and in most types of cancer, they will continue to grow into a lump or mass called a tumor.

What causes cancer?

Two conditions add to a person’s tendency to get cancer. While the first condition may not be fully understood, your body may be more susceptible than others to getting cancer—whether caused by genetics or other factors. Another condition is being exposed to tobacco products/cigarette smoke or other carcinogens, toxins in your home or outdoor environment, or being out in the sun too long or too often, among others.

How do you test for cancer?

Some tests can diagnose cancer in its early stages. For example, in women, the Pap test is effective in the early detection of cervical cancer. In men, prostate cancer is detected with a PSA test, which measures prostate-specific antigens in the blood. Other screenings detect different kinds of cancers.

Why does the diagnosis seem to be delayed in many cases?

Cancer cells start small but grow to become billions of cells over time. It can take years before cancer begins to cause symptoms or the mass is large enough to be felt. Unfortunately, cancer can spread to other systems and organs resulting in more severe disease. It’s important to get regular screenings and avoid lifestyle choices that could cause cancer.

Should you get a second opinion for a cancer diagnosis?

Many people with a cancer diagnosis get a second opinion from another doctor. There are many reasons to get a second opinion, including if you want to confirm your diagnosis or explore treatment options, if the type of cancer is rare, if there are different ways to treat cancer, or if you are not comfortable selecting a treatment option.

Some health insurance companies may also require a second opinion for cancer diagnosis, even before treatment begins. A second opinion can help to give you more confidence in the cancer diagnosis, treatment plan, or treatment team.

If you are experiencing symptoms that concern you—even if it’s not time for your regular checkup—contact your family medicine provider for an appointment.