Diagnosis: Cancer

Cycle of Hope

Equip Yourself

Cancer Treatment

Treatment Team

Questions to Ask
Healthy Lifestyles


Your Diagnosis

Cancer is not just one disease. The term refers to a group of diseases that share two common traits: the uncontrolled growth of cells and the ability of the cells to spread through the blood and lymph (a colorless, watery fluid that contains infection-fighting white blood cells) to other parts of the body.xi Cancer is classified by where it starts, even if it has traveled to another organ. There are many types of cancer that begin in different tissues and organs of the body. Each type of cancer has its own characteristics, such as how it grows, where it spreads, and how it responds to treatment.xii

A cancerous tumor can be classified as in situ, invasive, or metastatic. The term "in situ" means that the cancer has not spread and is still in the site where it began. These cancer cells have not begun to invade nearby tissues, making the outlook more positive for the patient. "Invasive" means that the cancer has spread to other parts of the tissue where it started. The term "metastatic" means the cancer has spread or started to spread to other parts of the body. Cells from the primary tumor have broken away and "metastatized," or traveled to healthy tissues via the bloodstream or the lymph system. The tumor at the new site is called a "metastatic tumor."xiii

Staging is a process of evaluating the extent of your cancer, if and where it has spread, and if there are any medical problems being caused by your cancer.xiv Staging also gives doctors a way to estimate your outlook and evaluate your response to treatment. The higher the stage, the more advanced the cancer. It is important to know, however, that each type of cancer has its own criteria for staging.