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Cancer FAQ

You or someone close to you has heard these words: “you have cancer.” Now you have a million questions. Your best sources of information are your personal physician and your Tanner care team; however, here are the answers to some of the most frequently-asked questions (FAQs) relating to cancer.

What is cancer?

The word cancer is defined by a class of diseases in which a group of cells grow out of control, invade adjacent tissues, and sometimes spread to other locations in the body via the lymph system system or via the blood (metastasis). Most cancers form a tumor but some, like leukemia, do not. The branch of medicine concerned with the study, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of cancer is oncology.

Warning Signs of Cancer

  1. Change in bowel or bladder habits
  2. A sore that does not heal
  3. Unusual bleeding or discharge
  4. A sore throat that does not heal
  5. A lump in the breast or other parts of the body
  6. Chronic indigestion or difficulty swallowing
  7. Obvious changes in a mole or a wart
  8. Persistent coughing or hoarseness

If you have any of the warning signs listed above or think you may have cancer, please call your primary care physician. If you do not have a physician, call the Tanner Physician Referral Line at 770.214.CARE or choose Find a Doctor.

Why me?

If it’s possible to determine, your doctor can provide the most complete picture of the cause of your cancer. In general, although cancer can affect people at all ages—even fetuses—your risk increases with age. Nearly all cancers are caused by abnormalities in the genetic material of cells. These abnormalities can be random errors in cell replication, or they can be due to the effects of carcinogens such as tobacco smoke, radiation, chemicals or infectious agents.

The incidence of lung cancer is highly correlated with smoking. Viruses can cause cancer, too: they are responsible for 15 percent of cancers worldwide. Immune system dysfunction is also associated with a number of cancers. Other cancer risk factors include alcohol consumption, physical inactivity and obesity. Most forms of cancer are “sporadic,” meaning they are not hereditary.

What next?

Most cancers are first recognized either because telltale symptoms appear or through a routine screening. A definitive diagnosis usually requires the opinion of a pathologist, a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis of cancer and other diseases.

Your diagnosis will usually include an examination of a tissue sample. Most cancers can be treated and many cured, depending on the specific type, location and stage of development/progression. Once diagnosed, cancer is usually treated with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Select Research Your Health on the green bar to research particular types of cancer and treatments..

What is cancer staging?

Staging refers to the determination of the extent of the disease and whether it has metastasized to regional lymph nodes. Staging is a major determinant of prognosis and of the need for additional therapy.

How is my prognosis determined?

Cancer research is always developing, and specific treatments become available for different varieties of cancer. We’ve seen significant progress in the development of drugs that act specifically on certain tumors while minimizing damage to normal cells. Your prognosis, or the probability of cure after your therapy, is most influenced by your type of cancer as well as the stage or extent of the disease. But advances in medical care today mean that some types of cancer have a prognosis that is much better than some other diseases such as heart failure and stroke.

How is my treatment determined?

Your cancer can be treated by surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, monoclonal antibody therapy or other methods. The choice of therapy depends upon the location and grade of the tumor and the stage of the disease, as well as the general state of the patient.

Your doctor can explain your particular treatment in detail, but the following are the most commonly used treatments:

  • Surgery - Your treatment team’s goal is complete removal of the cancer without damage to the rest of the body. Sometimes this can be accomplished by surgery. If this is the treatment your doctor recommends, a pathologist will follow up after surgery to determine if any microscopic cancer cells rema
  • Radiation therapy - Radiation therapy is the use of ionizing radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. It can be administered externally or internally. Radiation therapy injures or destroys cells in the area being treated, making it impossible for these cells to continue to grow and divide. Even with the most accurate technology, radiation sometimes damages normal cells along with cancer cells; most normal cells recover from the effects of radiation and function properly.
  • Chemotherapy - Chemotherapy is the treatment of cancer with drugs that can destroy cancer cells by interfering with cell division in various ways.

Learn more about cancer treatments and options.

Will my treatment be painful?

Radiation treatments are painless, much like getting an X-ray. However, there may be pain associated with your treatment, for example, if you have back pain or chest pain when you lie down. You may also experience pain from the side effects of the treatment such as a bad skin reaction that feels like sunburn or a bad sore throat if the esophagus is included in the treatment area. The nurse and physician will help you manage any pain you have during your treatment.

Will I be radioactive?

External beam radiation does not cause you to become radioactive. The radiation is created by the treatment machine while you are in the room and does not leave the treatment room. There are no radiation precautions you must take while under treatment. However, if you have radioactive implants, there are some precautions that will be discussed with you.

Will I lose my hair?

You will only lose the hair on your head if your head is being treated. However, you will lose any hair in the area that is being treated. For instance, if your leg is being treated, the hair in that area will fall out. Even if there is hair loss in the area of treatment, it is not permanent.

Does someone need to bring me for my treatment?

If you are able to drive before you begin radiation treatments, you may drive while you are under treatment. There are only a few circumstances when we would limit your driving. If you are on pain medication that alters your reaction time or dulls your senses or if you are under treatment for a brain tumor, you will be asked not to drive.

Do I need to restrict my daily activities?

It is recommended that you continue any or all daily activities that you feel able to do. Many people continue to work full time while under treatment. Get plenty of rest and maintain a healthy diet.

Will radiation therapy make me sick?

Most patients will not get nauseated from radiation treatments unless the area being treated includes the stomach.

What if I need help when the Cancer Center is closed?

Calls to the Roy Richards, Sr. Cancer Center after regular hours will be received by an answering machine. If you leave a message, a Cancer Center staff member will return your call promptly on the following business day.

If you have an emergency or need to speak with the radiation oncologist, call 770.836.9666. If the oncologist cannot be reached, contact your primary care physician or go to the nearest emergency department.

What insurance is accepted?

Roy Richards, Sr. Cancer Center accepts any insurance that is accepted by Tanner Medical Center/Carrollton.

How will I be billed?

You will receive a bill for the technical portion of the treatment. If you have questions regarding your bill, please contact the Cancer Center receptionist at 770.836.9824 or the Business Office at 770.836.9569. You will also receive a bill for the care provided by the radiation oncologist. The Patient Account Representative can answer any questions you may have about these bills. The representative is available for consultation at the Cancer Center one day a week or can be reached at 770.693.5810. A social worker is also available on staff to help with any financial problems.

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