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Frequently Asked Questions

You have questions. Our professionals have the answers.

Cancer brings with it many questions, decisions to be made and issues relating to treatment, emotional health and wellness. Here are some common questions we receive about various topics.

Frequently Asked Questions

Anxiety 2 items

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  • Treatment is over, why am I feeling more anxious?

    Treatment is over, why am I feeling more anxious?

    While you were in treatment, you likely had multiple people in your support network, such as doctors, family, and friends.  When treatment ends and you just have periodic checkups and family and friends check in with you less and less, you might feel that you are losing part of your support system.  This can sometimes cause an increase anxiety.  A lot of people also describe feeling anxious that the cancer might come back.  This is a normal feeling to experience.  Think about talking to someone or joining a support group to help with your anxiety.
  • Why am I experiencing such an increase in anxiety during treatment?

    Why am I experiencing such an increase in anxiety during treatment?

    It is common to feel anxious throughout the treatment process.  You might feel overwhelmed with information at times and other times struggle with the amount of waiting to find out any news on how treatment is going.  If you are feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information, consider bringing someone with you to your appointments so they can take notes for you.  You can also ask your doctor if it is okay to record what he is saying so you can go back later and listen to it again.  If you have an important test coming up and know you are going to struggle with the long wait for the results, consider planning something in advance to take your mind off of it or ask a friend to come over to help keep you company.  Other times anxiety might be caused by not knowing what to expect during treatment.  Try writing down any questions you might have and reaching out to your doctor.  You might consider making a connection with someone that has been through a similar treatment so that you can ask them what to expect.

Cancer Basics 6 items

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  • Does cancer have symptoms?

    Does cancer have symptoms?

    Sometimes, but not always. The signs and symptoms of cancer depend on where the cancer is located and how big it is. As a cancer grows, it can push on nearby organs and other structures. The resulting pressure can cause signs and symptoms. Some cancers grow in places where they won’t cause any signs or symptoms until they have advanced. For example, pancreatic cancer usually doesn’t cause any signs or symptoms until it grows large enough to press on other structures, causing pain, or manifesting signs of jaundice, which is yellowing of the skin.

    Some general signs and symptoms of cancer can include:

    • Unexplained weight loss
    • Fever
    • Fatigue
    • Pain
    • Skin changes
    • Bowel habit or bladder function changes
    • Sores that don’t heal
    • Unusual bleeding or discharge
    • A thickening or lump in a part of the body, such as a breast
    • Indigestion or trouble swallowing
    • A recent change in a wart or mole
    • A nagging cough or hoarseness

    Keep in mind that there can be other reasons for these signs and symptoms. The only way to find out what’s causing them is to see your doctor. If you notice any of these symptoms and they don’t pass, it is time to get them looked at.

  • Does cigarette smoke really cause cancer?

    Does cigarette smoke really cause cancer?

    Yes. Cigarettes cause the vast majority of cancers of the lung. They are a major factor in cancers of the bladder, pancreas, mouth, larynx, esophagus, and kidney.
  • Is cancer genetic?

    Is cancer genetic?

    Cancer is, in fact, a genetic disease. This is because cancer is caused by mutations or changes to genes that control the way our cells function, causing them to behave irregularly. These mutations can be inherited, as they are in about 5-10 percent of all cancer cases, but it’s much more likely that these gene changes occur during a person’s lifetime due to other factors besides genetics.
  • Is there a vaccine for cancer?

    Is there a vaccine for cancer?

    There is no vaccine for cancer. But there are vaccines for some viruses that are known to cause cancer, such as the human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis B.

    HPV can cause cancer and getting vaccinated against it can help protect against the types of HPV that can lead to cervical, anal, throat, and penile cancers, along with some other forms of cancer. The HPV vaccine protects against many strains of the virus that can cause these cancers.

    The same is true for infection with the hepatitis B virus, which has been linked to liver cancer. Getting vaccinated against hepatitis B can reduce your risk for getting liver cancer. But just like the HPV vaccine, the hepatitis B vaccine doesn’t protect against liver cancer itself. It only protects against the virus that might lead to liver cancer.

  • What are the stages of cancer, and what do they mean?

    What are the stages of cancer, and what do they mean?

    Cancer typically has four stages: I through IV (1 through 4). Some cancers even have a stage 0 (zero). Here’s what these stages mean:

    • Stage 0: This stage means the cancer is still found in the place it started and hasn’t spread to nearby tissues. Stage 0 cancers are often curable.
    • Stage I: This stage usually represents a small tumor or cancer that hasn’t grown deeply into nearby tissues. It’s sometimes called early-stage cancer.
    • Stages II and III: Usually these stages represent larger cancers or tumors that have grown more deeply into nearby tissues. They also may have spread to lymph nodes. However, they haven’t spread to other organs or parts of the body.
    • Stage IV: Cancer in this stage has spread to other organs or parts of the body. It may be referred to as metastatic or advanced cancer.
  • What should I say and not say to someone who has cancer?

    What should I say and not say to someone who has cancer?

    When you find out that someone you care about has cancer, it can be really hard to know what to say or to do to be helpful.  A lot of the time we mean well, but it does not always come across the way we intend it to.  Before you say something, maybe consider how it will sound from their point of view. Sometimes people will make comments such as “you don’t look like you have cancer” or “you look like you are feeling good.”  The person saying this likely means it as a compliment or as a way to be encouraging.  People with cancer may feel frustrated with hearing this all the time because even though they may look well, they may not being feeling well.  Another one people will say a lot is “you have to stay positive.”  While positivity can be a useful tool, someone with cancer is likely not going to feel positive every second of every day and that is okay.  They may be having some really hard days and it is okay if they don’t feel like putting a smile on their face for that day. So what can you do to help?  Sometimes just being there and listening to them is all someone needs.  You don’t have to try to fix what they are going through or change anything, just listen without judgement.  You can also ask them what they need or how you can help.  If you notice there is something in particular that they are struggling with, then ask them if it is something you can help with.  For example, maybe they are too tired on days they have treatment to pick their kids up from school.  Ask if it would be helpful for you to pick them up on those days instead. Let them know that you care and are there for them, but also respect any boundaries that they set.

Caregiving 1 item

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  • What is caregiver frustration and am I experiencing it?

    What is caregiver frustration and am I experiencing it?

    If you are a caregiver, you may experience caregiver frustration at some point throughout your loved one’s treatment process.  This can result from the constant stress and worry that comes with being a caregiver.  You may feel like things are out of your control or there is too much responsibility on your shoulders.  You may notice yourself feeling tense all the time, feeling irritable, or tired.  Learn to recognize the signs when they first start to occur.  Consider asking a family member or friend to help out or stay with your loved one for a few hours so that you can have time to recharge your own batteries.  Make sure you are taking care of yourself and don’t ignore any of your own health problems.

Chemotherapy 2 items

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  • I have heard about chemotherapy safety. What does this mean and what precautions should I take?

    I have heard about chemotherapy safety. What does this mean and what precautions should I take?

    Chemotherapy drugs can be considered hazardous to those who come into contact with them.  Not all chemotherapy medications are the same, so it is important to ask your doctor about any safety concerns you might have.  Sometimes there are certain precautions that need to be taken during and after chemo.  You might even notice some of the precautions your healthcare team takes, such as wearing protective clothing.  It usually takes your body about 48 to 72 hours to break down the chemo drugs.  Once your body starts to break them down, they can start to come out in your bodily fluids, such as urine, stool, vomit, sweat, and tears.  Take extra precautions so that friends, family members, or pets do not come into contact with any of your bodily fluids during this time. Some extra precautions you can take, if possible, are to have your loved ones use a separate bathroom during that time.  If this is not possible, try flushing the toilet twice after each use and wiping down the toilet seat.  Keep the toilet seat down to keep pets from drinking out of the toilet bowl. Always wash your hands after using the restroom and wash any clothes that may have come into contact with bodily fluids.  If a caregiver is cleaning up any bodily fluid, it is recommended that they wear 2 pairs of disposable gloves and wash their hands afterwards.  If they get any on their skin then they should use soap and water to wash it off immediately.
  • What is chemo brain?

    What is chemo brain?

    Chemo brain is when you feel that you are in a “fog.”  You might have trouble remembering things, learning new things, or focusing on tasks.  This can be a side effect of chemotherapy and occasionally other cancer treatments as well.   If you experience this side effect, mention it to your doctor and ask what might help.  Sometimes exercise and meditation can help improve memory.

Dealing with Loss 1 item

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  • How do I handle loss?

    How do I handle loss?

    Everyone deals with loss differently and that is okay.  There are many different kinds of loss that people that are impacted by cancer might go through.  It might be the loss of a loved one you are struggling with.   Loss can come in many shapes and sizes.  Maybe you are struggling with how cancer has changed your relationship with you or your loved one.  You may not have the mobility that you once did, you might be struggling with the loss of energy, or the loss of your hair.   You are not alone, and there is no set time on how long the grieving process lasts.  Sometimes talking to someone about your experience can help.  If you don’t feel comfortable talking to friends or family, think of giving a support group a try.  This will help you connect to others that can understand what you are going through.

Family Support 2 items

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  • How do I talk to my family or friends about cancer?

    How do I talk to my family or friends about cancer?

    It can be hard enough processing you or your loved one’s diagnosis, but the thought of having to tell your family and friends can feel quite daunting.   It is up to you to decide who you want to tell.  Often times friends and family may have a lot of questions about your diagnosis and you may find yourself repeating the same things over and over again.  Think about if you want to tell your family in a large group to limit the amount of times you have to share the information or if you would rather tell people one on one.  You might want to consider figuring out a process for communicating updates.  For example, maybe you create a designated point person to share updates to family and friends so that you are not constantly being bombarded by questions and phone calls during treatments or on days that you might need some rest.  Some people like to create a group email or group text to share updates.  Be honest with family and friends about how you are feeling.  If you have a day where you are not feeling well and are not up to visitors, then let them know.  It is okay to have boundaries.  Family and friends often want to help, but don’t always know the best way to help.  Sometimes they may do something with good intentions in an effort to help, but actually end up adding more stress to you.  If what they are doing is not helpful, then let them know what would be helpful instead.
  • How do I tell my kids?

    How do I tell my kids?

    When talking to your children about you or your loved one’s cancer diagnosis, you may not know where to start.  A lot of parents will try to protect their children by telling them as little as possible.  Chances are that your children are picking up on that something is wrong. Sometimes the not knowing is worse than the knowing.  Children may invent scenarios worse than the actual diagnosis.  When children know that there is something going on, but are not sure what it is, sometimes this can cause an increase in anxiety. Your child’s age and developmental level may impact how they process the news and how much that you share with them.  Younger children especially may need to be told that it is not their fault and that they cannot catch cancer.  Some kids might be concerned that you might lose your hair where as other kids might immediately worry that you might die.  Every child is going to process the news differently and at their own pace.  Pay attention to your child’s behaviors in the weeks after you tell them.  You might notice that they are struggling with some tasks, are easily distracted, or a little more emotional than normal.  Let your child know that it is okay to talk about and encourage them to ask any questions they may have.  If you feel like your child is really struggling with the news then maybe try reaching out to a professional for some added support.

Radiation 1 item

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  • I am going to start radiation next week. What should I expect, and what can I do to decrease the fatigue?

    I am going to start radiation next week. What should I expect, and what can I do to decrease the fatigue?

    Fatigue related to radiation treatments usually starts about the second or third week of treatment, and may continue for up to 3 months or longer afterward. It is important to take good care of yourself. This means eating a well-balanced diet, drinking lots of fluid, sleeping well at night, and doing exercise as tolerated, such as walking regularly. Once you start feeling fatigued, match your activity to how you feel. You should identify the activities or tasks that you have to do, and ask someone else to do the other tasks.

    • First, if you are driving yourself to your radiation treatments, see if someone else can drive you to your radiation treatments when you start feeling tired.
    • Second, try keeping a diary of how you feel, what makes you feel more energetic, what makes you feel more tired. Don't do the more tiring activities. Rate the activities using a simple scale, such as on a scale of 0 (full of energy) to 10 (absolutely exhausted, no energy).
    • Third, talk with your doctor or nurse about problems that arise, or if your fatigue is severe.

Survivorship 1 item

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  • Treatment is over, why am I feeling more anxious?

    Treatment is over, why am I feeling more anxious?

    While you were in treatment, you likely had multiple people in your support network, such as doctors, family, and friends.  When treatment ends and you just have periodic checkups and family and friends check in with you less and less, you might feel that you are losing part of your support system.  This can sometimes cause an increase anxiety.  A lot of people also describe feeling anxious that the cancer might come back.  This is a normal feeling to experience.  Think about talking to someone or joining a support group to help with your anxiety.

Treatment Decisions 1 item

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  • Should I get a second opinion?

    Should I get a second opinion?

    People will often ask if they should get a second opinion.  It is always okay to get another opinion and a lot of doctors will even encourage this.  When it comes to your health, the more people in your corner, the better and it never hurts to get input from a few different doctors.  This is your life and your treatment.  You want to make sure that you feel comfortable with your treatment options and your treatment team.  If you are unsure about a course of treatment, then get some input from another specialist to see if they recommend the same thing or have any other ideas on options to try.  Sometimes people get third and fourth opinions too.  It is okay to advocate for yourself on what you need and to play an active part in the decision making process.