When healthy cells are damaged, they self-destruct in a process called apoptosis or “cell suicide.” When damaged cells cannot self-destruct, they continue multiplying. As they multiply, they mutate and invade other parts of your body. This is the condition known as cancer.

Risk Factors and Causes

There are many different causes and risk factors for developing cancer. Some of them are uncontrollable while others relate directly to lifestyle choices. Those who have relatives with cancer are more vulnerable therefore some cases can be considered inherited. Cancer can also be a side-effect of another disease, like HPV or AIDS.

Exposure to chemicals can also cause cancer. Asbestos and long-term exposure to other harmful chemicals is know to cause lung cancer. It is important to take the necessary steps to protect yourself if you work near dangerous carcinogenic chemicals.

Some factors are within your control. Eating right, exercising regularly, and having a healthy diet can help reduce your chances of developing cancer. Avoiding alcohol and smoking can also help greatly.

Symptoms of Cancer

  • Sores that don’t heal
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Changes in weight, bladder, or bowel habits
  • Unusual amounts of bleeding
  • Unusual discharges
  • Continuously feeling weak or tired
  • Lumps or a noticeable thickening in parts of the body, including your breasts.

These symptoms are not definitive and could be a sign of something else. If you do have any of these symptoms, it’s important to see your doctor as soon as possible.


Before giving a definitive diagnosis, the doctor will ask for your personal and family medical history. Afterwards, they will likely order tests to rule out other possibilities; they may require a fluid sample, like blood, or imaging tests, such as x-ray, CT scan, ultrasound, or MRI.

The doctor may also perform a biopsy on the affected area. There are three different types of biopsies. The doctor can use a needle to withdraw fluid, like blood or discharge. An endoscope may be used to examine and collect tissue samples from parts of your body. The last type of biopsy involves surgery and there are two types: a surgeon either performs an excisional surgery by removing the entire tumor or an incisional surgery by removing only part of the tumor. In either case, the tumor will be examined by a pathologist to determine if cancer cells as present.


There are over 100 types of cancer. Most cancers are typically named after that affected body part, like blood or liver cancer. The most common types of cancer occur in the thyroid, prostate, pancreas, skin, lung, kidney, bladder, colon, rectum, and breast. Other types of cancer, like leukemia, are not centered on one organ, but affects a group of cells or parts of the body that are vital for survival.

In order to plan an appropriate treatment, your physician needs to know what stage your cancer is in. He will determine your stage by how big the tumor or affected area is and whether or not it has spread to other parts of the body. The earlier cancer is caught, the more likely it is to overcome.


The prognosis for cancer varies greatly. It is possible to live a long, healthy life after being diagnosed, but this depends on how early the cancer is diagnosed, the efficacy of treatments, and the type of cancer the patient has. Leukemia, lung, and liver cancer can be fatal while breast or skin cancer may not be. Each prognosis varies from person to person.

Improving Prognosis

Prognosis can improve greatly with proper treatment, medication, and lifestyle changes. The type of treatment you decide to undergo is a personal decision. It is always wise to weigh in with your doctor and/or other health professionals before you decide what is best for you.

Many people are afraid that some cancer treatments will make them feel worse or will kill them. No one can decide your treatment for you, make sure to discuss your fears with your physician before making any major decisions.  Each form of cancer presents itself differently in patients. Explore your options, personal preferences, and conceptions with your doctor to find the treatment plan that fits you.



The information provided on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material found on this website is intended to promote and encourage consumer understanding and should not be considered alternative or supplementary medical advice. If you have any concerns regarding your health or physical condition, seek the advice of a licensed qualified healthcare provider. Be sure to discuss any changes or concerns with your doctor before beginning a new healthcare regimen, undergoing any procedures, or changing current healthcare plans. Seniors and Health does not claim medical representation and assumes no responsibility in the accuracy of the information available on this website.

To learn about other common health concerns among senior, check out our Health and Conditions page; we also provide information on senior care options on our Assisted Living page.

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