Back to Cancer Basics


A cancer diagnosis can be unexpected and scary. When you’re hit with a sudden overload of uninterpretable medical terminology, conflicting opinions and emotional stress, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed—but the LIVESTRONG Foundation is here to help.

Sometimes the best first step is arming yourself with the information and resources you need to start your fight. If you or a loved one has been recently diagnosed, our website contains a ton of resources, from articles to video podcasts to web apps and more.


But first, let’s get back to some cancer basics:

What is cancer? The National Cancer Institute defines cancer as a group of over 100 related but separate diseases in which abnormal cells divide and multiply, attacking other tissues in the process.

What causes it? The answer to this question isn’t so simple—sometimes the cause is genetic, sometimes it’s related to tobacco use, substance abuse, chemical exposure, excessive exposure to ultraviolet light or other factors.

How is it treated? Treatment options vary based on your type and stage of cancer, as well as a variety of other factors, and can include: chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, hormone therapy, clinical trials and more. Talk to your doctor about what’s best for you, and ask about the risks and side effects that can accompany treatment so you can plan for things like fertility preservation. You and your health care team will work together to develop a treatment care plan—and if you have questions about your options, need help interpreting medical information or want to seek a second (or third) opinion, our LIVESTRONG Navigators can connect you with experienced oncology nurses to help you do just that.

basics1How serious is it? A cancer “stage” refers to how cancer has affected the body—the size of a tumor and whether cancer has spread to lymph nodes or metastasized to other parts of the body. Your doctor will talk to you about your prognosis (which depends on the type and stage of your cancer), your treatment plan and overall health. Some people can live a relatively normal day-to-day life during treatment, while others might need to take time off from work or make drastic changes to their lifestyle. And while survival rates based on studies of past cancer patients are available, it’s important to know that everyone’s cancer diagnosis is different. You are not a statistic.

Where do I go from here? Talk to your doctor, reach out to friends and family and call us at 1-855-220-7777. LIVESTRONG can help you find health care, emotional support groups and mentors, clinical trials, financial resources, insurance coverage and much, much more. Our Navigators will be there for you each and every step of the way, and our services are always free of charge. It’s a fight, but you don’t have to go through it alone.

Learn how we helped Iram when he was diagnosed:

Visit for articles, survivor interviews and more. Contact a LIVESTRONG Navigator today for one-on-one support by calling 1-855-220-7777 or by filling out our Online Intake Form.

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