Let's Talk About Cancer

It's one of the most feared health concerns, but knowing all you can about cancer—from the most legitimate oncologists, not Dr. Google—can, we hope, make your worries and your journey a little less scary.

by Erin L. Boyle Health Writer

If you’ve just been diagnosed, those three words—“You have cancer”—can feel like a punch to the gut. What does this mean? How did this happen? What do you do next? Or maybe you’re not sure what’s going on, but freaking that you have cancer symptoms, or you’re wondering about your genetic risk. Whether you (or someone you love) has a diagnosis or not, take a deep breath and know that HealthCentral is here for you. On this page alone, you’ll discover the realities and challenges of cancer, but also the best treatments, lifestyle changes, where to find cancer communities, and all the crucial information to help you not merely manage—but hopefully thrive. We’re sure you’ve got a lot of questions...and we’ve got the answers you need.

Cancer

Our Pro Panel

We went to some of the nation's top experts in cancer to bring you the most up-to-date information possible.

Marleen I. Meyers, M.D.

Marleen I. Meyers, M.D.

Medical Oncologist, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Medicine, and Director of Perlmutter Cancer Center Survivorship Program

NYU Langone Health

New York, NY

Lidia Schapira, M.D.

Lidia Schapira, M.D.

Medical Oncologist, Associate Professor of Medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine and Director of Cancer Survivorship

Stanford Comprehensive Cancer Institute

Stanford, CA

Dale Shepard, M.D., Ph.D.

Dale Shepard, M.D., Ph.D.

Medical Oncologist (specializing in 18 cancers)

Cleveland Clinic Hematology and Medical Oncology

Cleveland, OH

Cancer
Frequently Asked Questions
What causes cancer?

Mutations in your DNA (the genetic information contained in each cell in our body). These mutations happen in two different ways: Either you inherited the mutation(s), so you were born with them, or you acquired them, meaning you got them during your lifetime. Acquiring mutations is much more common (responsible for about 90% to 95% of all cancers diagnosed) than inheriting them (accounting for about 5% to 10% of all cancers), which is why lifestyle changes—exercising and limiting alcohol, for example—are so vital to cancer prevention and best outcomes with treatment: A healthier body, the stronger you are for some tougher cancer treatments.

What are the most common cancer types?

Nonmelanoma skin cancer—so basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma—affects an estimated 3 million Americans a year alone, making it the most common cancer type in the U.S. That’s followed by breast cancer (in women), lung cancer (both men and women), colorectal cancer (both men and women), and prostate cancer (in men). Cancer in children accounts for about 1% of all cancers diagnosed each year, or about 11,000 kids under the age of 15. Leukemia is the most common type diagnosed in children, in about 30% of cases.

What are possible treatments for cancer?

They include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, and stem cell transplants. Surgery and radiation therapy are often used in earlier stage cancers, while chemotherapy is often used when cancers have spread, though what treatment you have depends on the type of cancer you have, the stage it‘s in, if/how much it has spread in your body, and even factors like your health before treatment begins, your age, and your sex.

Can cancer be cured?

This one is a little complicated. While some cancers don’t often recur (or if they do, they’re inherently treatable), like nonmelanoma skin cancers, some early stage cancers, and some forms of thyroid cancer and testicular cancer, (especially when treated before they’ve spread), many doctors are cautious to use the “c” word and prefer to say you’re in remission, especially if your cancer hasn’t returned by five years or more.

What Is Cancer, Exactly?

About 39% of American men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetime. And, hell yeah, it’s a scary diagnosis. But more than 15 million American cancer survivors have already walked this road.

Focus on that “survive” part, because here’s the deal: At no other time in history have there been better odds that you’ll make it. As screenings find cancer earlier and treatments become more precise and tailored just to you, your chances of not only beating cancer, but also having an all-around-great life, continue to rise. Plus, understanding the intricacies of cancer—how it works, why it happens—can help you discern what a diagnosis actually means, and how treatments work, too.

Cancer statistics including percentage of cancers that are inherited, percentage of Americans who will have cancer, number of American cancer survivors, percentage of cancers that might be preventable, number of cancer types
Nikki Cagle

Cancer Cells vs. Normal Cells

Ok, so let’s get into the specifics. Our bodies are made up of trillions of microscopic cells, which form our tissues and organs, right? And cells carry the material—or DNA—that we inherit and pass on to future generations.
Normal cells live, divide, get older, and die. They’re also programmed to do so in a certain way, one cell becoming two, two cells becoming four, and on and on, copying DNA as they go. For us adults, cells grow and divide when necessary, like to replace aging and damaged cells (as opposed to babies, whose cells divide faster and more frequently so they can grow bigger).

Cancer cells break all the rules. They are rebels with a cause: immortality. Because cancer cells don’t die. An extraordinary example of this is what are called “HeLa cells,” which are actual cancerous cells from Henrietta Lacks, a woman with cervical cancer who passed away in 1951. Her cancerous cells are still being used in medical research for such groundbreaking things as helping create the polio vaccine—Oprah Winfrey even starred in a TV movie about her in 2017, based on a best-selling book.

Cancer cells also don’t stop growing when they should. Instead they mutate, replicate, and can form tumors (masses of tissue) as they increase. In blood cancers, like leukemia, the cells usually amass like an army in the blood instead of as tumors, but the concept is the same: too many abnormal, damaged cells growing where they shouldn’t be.

An important note here: Just because a cell is abnormal doesn’t necessarily mean it’s cancerous. It could be benign (not cancer), or precancerous or premalignant (likely to become cancer). If it’s malignant, it’s already cancer. Doctors can test tissue to determine which it is.

Cancer cells can start growing pretty much anywhere in the body. And cancer is a catchall name given to a collection of related diseases—hence, why treatment ranges so vastly from, say, breast cancer to lymphoma. Some cancers grow more rapidly, or aggressively, than others, as well.

But cancer cells often share these features:

  • Immaturity. Cancer cells don’t mature because they are growing so rapidly, preventing them from developing into cells with specialized roles, like normal cells. This can lead to cancer cells making mistakes as they copy DNA too quickly, causing them to create new cells that are even more immature and buggy.

  • Lack of repair. When normal cells are damaged, they repair themselves (it’s called DNA repair). They’ll also destroy themselves if damage is too extensive, a process called apoptosis. Cancer cells don’t do either of these, instead making themselves immortal despite being error ridden, and so the damaged cells just keep dividing, spreading, and even resisting treatment.

  • “Local” invasion. Most of the time when normal tissue grows internally, like when scar tissue heals a wound inside your body, “contact inhibition” causes cells to halt expansion when they reach other tissue and structures. Not so with cancer cells. They can make enzymes that erode normal cells and tissues around them, allowing them to keeping going and going. Growth into nearby tissue is called local invasion, or invasive cancer.

  • Ability to spread throughout the body. If not stopped, cancer cells spread to different parts of the body, a process called metastasis, by breaking off a cancerous tumor and traveling through the body’s blood or lymphatic system. Common sites they arrive at include the lymph nodes, liver, lungs, brain, and bones. And why? Because…

  • They don’t stick together like they should. Normal cells exist as a unit in the right place in the right part of the body because surface molecules bind them together. In contrast, cancer cells often lack these molecules, letting them travel throughout the body.

Since cancer cells don’t die, it’s up to treatment to stop them cold. Every single cell, to be clear. Because just one remaining cancer cell can replicate again, repeating the whole process.

What Causes Cancer?

The most basic answer is that cancer develops due to changes—a.k.a. mutations—in our cells’ DNA. This can happen for two reasons: inherited mutations and acquired mutations.

Inherited Mutations

About 5% to 10% of cancers are inherited, known as familial or hereditary cancers. Many cancer mutations happen in our DNA’s genes, which is why you’ve heard so much about genetic factors and cancer. The most common types of inherited gene mutations and syndromes include:

  • BRCA1 and BRCA2 (h4). BRCA1 (BReast CAncer gene one) and BRCA2 (BReast CAncer gene two) are tumor suppressor genes we all have; when those genes mutate, they can cause real damage and are best known as a cause of breast cancer (in men as well as women). But a mutation in these genes can also lead to:

  • Lynch Syndrome (H4). Also called hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer, this syndrome can be caused by a mutation in what’s known as mismatch repair (MMR) genes MLH1, MSH2, PMSI, and PMS2. If you have these gene mutations, you’ve got a higher chance of the following cancers: colorectal, endometrial, ovarian, stomach, small intestine, pancreatic, kidney, brain, ureters, and bile duct.

  • Li-Fraumeni Syndrome (H4). It’s rare, but associated with a higher risk for sarcoma, including osteosarcoma and soft-tissue sarcomas; leukemia; brain cancers; cancer of the adrenal cortex; and breast cancer. Inherited mutations connected to this syndrome include the TP53 gene and CHEK2 gene, both tumor suppressor genes.

  • Familial melanoma. It’s been linked to the genes CDKN2A and CDK4, but there could be others, as these two don’t account for all cases of this inherited type of the skin cancer.

Acquired (Somatic) Mutations

The rest of cancers diagnosed—about 90% to 95%—are caused by genetic mutations that happen as we live our lives. Experts call these cancers non-hereditary or spontaneous cancers. For some of these, simple lifestyle changes—such as healthy eating, alcohol moderation, and regular exercise—you can help reduce your cancer risk.

Certain factors can up your chances of developing a non-hereditary cancer. These include:

  • Carcinogens. Exposure to these chemicals, which include tobacco smoke and alcohol, is well-documented to affect your chancer risk.

  • Sun exposure (skin cancer)

  • Radiation exposure (numerous cancers, including thyroid and bladder)

  • Environmental pollutants like asbestos (lung cancer, among other cancer types)

Read More About the Causes of Cancer
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What Are the Types of Cancer?

As we mentioned, cancerous cells can start multiplying like Gremlins in any area of your body. The place that happens—known as the primary site of your cancer—determines the type of cancer you have. When those cancer cells move into the body’s blood or lymphatic system, the areas populated are called metastatic sites.

More than 100 types of cancer exist, but there four main categories that doctors typically use to describe, and diagnose, the overarching type of cancer you have. Where and when your cancer starts dictates your category:

  • Carcinomas. This most common type of cancer begins in the skin or tissue on the surface of internal organs and glands. It is typically a solid tumor. Examples include breast cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer, and prostate cancer.

  • Sarcomas. This version of cancer starts in connective tissues, such as in fat, muscles, nerves, joints, blood vessels, lymph vessels, cartilage, or bone.

  • Leukemias. A cancer of the blood. The main types are acute lymphocytic leukemia, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, acute myeloid leukemia, and chronic myeloid leukemia.

  • Lymphomas. A cancer that starts in the lymphatic system, the network of vessels and glands that help fight infection. The main lymphomas are Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Most Common Types of Cancer

In the U.S., nonmelanoma skin cancer is the most common cancer, with one in five Americans developing it in their lifetime. Nonmelanoma skin cancer—so basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma—affects an estimated 3 million Americans a year alone. But they’re excluded from lists of the most cancer types in the U.S. year over year for a few reasons, one of which being that doctors can easily treat these in their offices with an initial biopsy procedure alone (and when this is done early, they have more than a 95% survival rate). Besides most carcinoma in situ (precancerous) cases, they’re the only cancer type excluded from lists of the most commonly diagnosed cancer types in the U.S.

In 2019, leaving out nonmelanoma skin cancer, the following accounted for nearly half of all cancers diagnosed:

  • Breast

  • Colorectal

  • Lung (of all cancers diagnosed in 2019, 13% of both men and women had lung cancer)

Most Common Types of Cancer in Men

Not including skin cancer, men most regularly deal with these cancers:

  • Prostate. This cancer type accounts for about 20% of cancers in men diagnosed in 2019. About 1 in 9 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetimes.

  • Lung (and bronchus).

  • Colorectal. Colon and rectal (the two cancers are different types but often combined into one word) cancers are more common in older patients: The average age at diagnosis for colon cancer in men is 68 and rectal cancer, 63.

Most Common Types of Cancer in Women

Again, excluding skin cancer, these include:

  • Breast. About 30% of new cancers diagnosed in women in 2019 will be breast cancer (that’s 268,600 new cases).

  • Lung (and bronchus). In the last four decades, the rate of new lung cancer cases has dropped 36% for men but risen 84% in women. One reason could be that women have caught up to men in smoking.

  • Colorectal. The average age at diagnosis is 72, but the incidence rate has been increasing 1% to 3% per year in adults younger than 50.

Most Common Types of Cancer in Children

In 2019, approximately 11,000 children under the age of 15 were diagnosed with cancer in the U.S., making up 1% of all cancers diagnosed each year. Leukemia is the most common type, accounting for 30% of childhood cancers.

Get the Info on All The Different Types of Cancer
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Do I Have the Signs or Symptoms of Cancer?

You notice a lump. Or keep getting headaches. It’s hard not to jump to the “I have cancer” conclusion. While many symptoms of cancer are also indications of far less serious conditions, when should you be concerned that it could be cancer?

This can be a little complicated. Because some cancers (pancreatic and liver, in particular) can have few to no symptoms until they’re advanced and difficult to treat, symptoms aren‘t always the best way to find cancer.

Here are just a few of many possible cancer symptoms:

  • Lump or mass. You might think that cancer shows up as a lump you can see in your body. And it very well could be. But keep in mind that most (80% of those biopsied) breast lumps are non-cancerous and can happen for a number of reasons. Or you could have an internal tumor that you can‘t see. It’s still a good idea to have any new visible lump or mass checked out by your doctor, in case it’s in that percentage that IS cancer.

  • New-onset pain. Pain that has just cropped up, doesn’t make sense, and doesn't relent could be a problem. Cancer pain can be different for each person, depending on its location, stage, even your pain tolerance level. If you have a reason for the hurt—say, you slipped on ice and fell on your arm—then pain in your arm for weeks makes sense. But no explainable “why” for unrelenting pain? It's best to see your doctor.

  • Unexplained weight loss (or gain). Say 15-30 pounds that you were not trying to lose.

  • Fatigue. Exhaustion for no good reason could be an indication of an issue. You know your body. Been on the ski slope for hours for a weekend and tired at night? Fatigue makes sense. Been home, resting, for a weekend instead and you’re still unable to get out of bed in the morning? Fatigue can happen for a host of reasons, so before you jump to “it’s cancer,” talk to your doctor.

  • Blood. In your stool or urine, especially. It could be hemorrhoids or a urinary tract infection, respectively, but if you don’t have it checked out, how will you know?

  • Cough. Do you have a new, deep cough that just won’t go away, even after you’ve cleared a cold or upper respiratory problem? This could indicate lung cancer.

  • Headaches. Especially if you haven’t had them before, you keep having them, and they’re worsening in intensity.

Six symptoms of cancer: a weird lump, fatigue, pain, blood in urine or stool, weight changes, coughing
Nikki Cagle

How Do Doctors Diagnose Cancer?

So you go to your primary care doctor (or urgent care, or whatever source of medical care you use) and tell them about a sign or symptom troubling you. Or you might’ve had one of the many different cancer screenings with an abnormal finding, like a Pap smear (cervical cancer), mammogram (breast cancer), digital rectal examination and PSA blood test (prostate cancer), or colonoscopy (colon cancer).

If your doctor feels this sign or symptom might be concerning or you had an abnormal screening test result, your doctor will do what’s called a “workup” of your signs, symptoms, or screening results.

Specific Cancer Screening Options

Methods for doing a workup to diagnosis cancer (called diagnostic tests) include:

  • Blood samples, though as we’ve mentioned, there’s not yet a blood test for all cancers available

  • Urine samples, called a urine cytology, these find abnormal cells in your urine that could indicate urinary tract cancers

  • Imaging, such as an X-ray, ultrasound, or MRI

  • A biopsy is a procedure that helps your doctor see or remove tissue from your tumor for study and is used in many kinds of cancers to make a diagnosis. This procedure be done in different ways, including, but not limited to, these four:

    1. Incisional: Surgically removes tissue for study from your tumor

    2. Image-guided: Uses imaging, like an ultrasound, to guide your doctor’s biopsy tool to your tumor to remove tissue

    3. Fine needle aspiration: A needle or syringe removes tissue, a procedure that’s considered minimally invasive, or makes the least damage possible

    4. Laparoscopic: A thin tube with a camera shows your doctor your tumor, another minimally invasive procedure (and they can remove tissue too, with a needle, using this biopsy type)

At this point, entering the scene will be a pathologist (a doctor who specializes in diagnosing disease by interpreting lab tests and evaluating cells, tissues, and organs) to examine your cells from test results (often, a biopsy) under a microscope to detect if the cells are cancerous. This doctor will then create a pathology report that’s sent to your initial physician within about 10 days after the sample is taken. This report is typically used in your diagnosis, staging, and, ultimately, treatment.

A diagnostic radiologist will likely examine your imaging.

If cancer is diagnosed based on these results, you’ll have a prognosis, too. A prognosis is the predicted course of a disease, according to Cancer.net, and will give you an idea of what your doctor sees for your overall outlook ahead, meaning treatment and how long your cancer journey might last.

What Are the Stages of Cancer?

At diagnosis, your cancer will likely be given a stage, which refers to the extent of your cancer, including how large the tumor is and if it’s spread. Staging is key to formulating treatment plans.

There are several ways to stage cancer. The TNM system is the most widely used cancer staging system, according to the National Cancer Institute. It refers to T for tumor, N for nearby lymph nodes involved, and M for metastasis. Numbers after each letter provide more details about the cancer type.

For the stages you might commonly know—stage 1, 2, 3, 4—these numbers are used for many cancer types and are less detailed than the TNM system. Here’s what the NCI says about what each one means (and yes, there’s actually a stage 0):

0: Abnormal cells are present but have not spread to nearby tissue. Also called carcinoma in situ, or CIS. CIS is not cancer, but it may become cancer. Treatment varies by cancer type, as it so often does across all cancer types.

1, 2, 3: Cancer is present. The higher the number, the larger the cancer tumor and the more it has spread into nearby tissues. Treatment will vary based on your cancer type and number of stage, as will your outcomes.

4: The cancer has spread to distant parts of the body. It is possible to go into remission with stage 4 cancer—at that point your disease is considered a chronic, or ongoing, illness, where you live with controlled or stable cancer that has metastasized but is not growing.

What Are the Treatments for Cancer?

Now we’ve reached treatment, and one big reason why understanding cancer can be helpful: Precision medicine, a new way of approaching cancer treatment, delivers individualized therapy based on many factors, including specific inherited mutations in tumors and the hormonal status of cancers like breast and prostate.

It used to be, cancer treatment was just surgery and radiotherapy, with chemotherapy invented in the 1940s. But things have come a long way—even in the last 20 years—and cancer docs now have additional treatment options to offer cancer patients, like targeted therapy and immunotherapy.

You might receive one type of cancer treatment, or nearly all of them. It depends on what type of cancer you have and what stage it is. Here are specific cancer treatment types:

Surgery: Exactly what you think it is—the surgical removal of cancer from your body. For example, in a mastectomy, your doctor would use a scalpel (a small, thin knife) to surgically remove your breast. Another cancer where surgery is a main treatment is colon cancer. Surgeons can also use a laser in some cancer surgeries for the most precise cuts, like to treat tumors in cervical, vaginal, esophageal, and non-small cell lung cancers.

Radiation therapy: High, controlled doses of radiation shrink tumors and kill cancer cells.

Chemotherapy: Probably the most well-known type of cancer treatment, this one uses medication delivered via IV or as pills to kill rapidly dividing cancer cells. It wipes out both cancerous and healthy cells, however, leading to side effects including nausea and vomiting (which can be controlled with other medications).

Targeted therapy: Mainly called small-molecule drugs or monoclonal antibodies, this treatment type attacks specific mutations. Because the therapies target abnormalities in tumors directly, they tend to have fewer side effects than chemo. These drugs are showing great promise, but they’re not available for all cancer types or stages.

Hormone therapy: Hormone blockers, taken as a pill, stall the growth of certain types of breast cancer (endocrine- and progesterone-related) and prostate cancer (androgen-related).

Stem cell transplant: Also called a bone marrow transplant, this procedure restores blood-forming stem cells to cancer patients who’ve had high doses of chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Immunotherapy: This newer treatment incorporates the body’s immune system, which is designed to detect and destroy abnormal cells, to kill all cancer cells. However, they tend to be specific to different cancer types, so are not available for a wide variety of cancers and stages at this time. One type of this therapy, called immune checkpoint inhibitors, are drugs that block the immune checkpoints that prevent a strong immune cell response. Stopping them allows immune cells to push back more powerfully against cancer cells. Another type of treatment, called T-cell transfer therapy, gives your T-cells—a type of white blood cell that helps protect the body against infection and just might help fight cancer—a much-needed boost to battle cancer cells.

Learn More About Cancer Treatment Options
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Can Cancer Be Cured?

There’s some disagreement among doctors on this. Some say yes, certain cancer types (some forms of thyroid, testicular, prostate, and other early stage cancers, among those) can be cured. You will (probably) never have cancer return.

Other doctors are more cautious and prefer to say that once cancerous cells are no longer detectable in your body for a certain period of time (a common amount is five years and beyond), you’re in remission. Your cancer could return. Or it could not. The five-year survival rate, which tracks the rate of people alive after diagnosis or starting treatment, for some cancers—such as breast, prostate, and thyroid cancers in adults, as well as leukemia in children—are now 90% or better.

The five-year survival rate for all cancers combined is currently about 67%, much improved over early 1960 rates of 39% in white cancer patients and 27% in black cancer patients (they’re currently at about 63% five-year survival rate now as a patient population).

Common cancer treatments: precision medicine, surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy
Nikki Cagle

Where Can I Find Cancer Communities?

Of course, there are endless bloggers, orgs, and support groups for specific cancers, too — for those, make sure to check out the "Let's Talk About…” page for your cancer. But regardless of your type of cancer, the below advocates — whether individuals, orgs, or groups — will welcome you and make you feel like you’re not alone.

Top Cancer Blogs & Support Groups

  • Stupid Cancer Blog. It’s the place for anyone living with young-adult cancer (age 15-39). The blog, hosted by nonprofit Stupid Cancer, is a rabbit hole of guest posts from young advocates with any and every cancer you can think of. It’s kind of like your one-stop shop for finding cancer advocates to follow (read: stalk) on a deeper level.

  • OncoLink Blog. When you want to sound off about breaking cancer news, trends, and information, you go to OncoLink (backed by Penn Medicine), which is moderated by OncoLink nurses, to make sure topics stay on... topic. Not only does it give you a safe place to share your thoughts, feelings, and experiences with a treatment, you’ll also see how others feel about it. It’s the Reddit of cancer blogs — there’s a forum for everything.

  • Cancer+Careers. Cancer at work — one of the toughest parts of #cancerlife to navigate. When do you tell your boss and co-workers? How does your insurance work? How do you keep your job when chemo is kicking your bum? Not only do these blogs give you guidance on how to handle these tough situations, they also give you a directory for finding a job.

  • I Had Cancer. As the title says, they’ve been there. This peer-to-peer support group gives you the guidance you need to take control of your life during and after cancer — and not just you, but your family, caregivers, and friends, too. It’s also a place to learn about treatments, side effects, and any long-term effects.

  • Patient Power. Think of them as a liaison between you and the medical world — these cancer survivors and patient advocates attend top cancer conferences, talk to experts, and bring you the information you need to know about cutting-edge treatments and life with cancer, all in layman’s terms. And their support extends past the internet — bringing you in-person town meetings and “Patient Cafes” where you can meet with other patients and their loved ones and learn from each other. Can’t make it IRL? Don’t worry – they stream these events online, too.

Top Cancer-Related Podcasts

  • You, Me, and the Big C: Putting the can in cancer. Want to feel like you have cancer but cancer doesn’t have you? The three hosts of this podcast will make you do just that. Rachael Bland, Deborah James and Lauren Mahon are candid about their life with the ‘Big C,’ but they also don’t let it consume who they are. They’re too busy living to let cancer rule their lives.

  • The Thing About Cancer. Well, the thing is, it’s scary from diagnosis to remission. The tests are overwhelming. The treatment options are mind-boggling. And symptoms like brain fog don’t help either. Host Julie McCrossin addresses all of these totally valid concerns and partners up with experts to make sure she’s bringing you real, but factual, insight.

  • Cancer Secrets. Who better to spill all the secrets about cancer than a doctor who is so invested in making sure cancer patients understand everything they’re getting themselves into? Dr. Jonathan Stegall squashes cancer myths and breaks down treatments and symptoms so you know what to actually expect — no sugar-coating.

  • Cure. Every week Cure (which stands for Cancer Updates Research and Education) brings you a podcast by a patient, caregiver, advocate, or health care professional on everything from inspiring stories to dealing with the psychological effects of cancer. Topics and guests span the gamut, so you’ll never get bored.

  • Frankly Speaking About Cancer. Hosted by Kim Thiboldeaux, the President and CEO of nonprofit Cancer Support Community, this podcast features patients, medical pros, caregivers, authors, and more — all with the goal of helping patients and their loved ones understand more of the medical world, and help experts grasp what patients are most concerned about.

Top Cancer Orgs

  • American Cancer Society. The bee’s knees of cancer orgs. They cover every cancer and the treatment, news, and research that accompanies each cancer. They’re also kind of like your cancer angles — hooking you up with access to free rides to and from cancer treatments, lodging if you need to stay close to a specific cancer center, and have a hotline that’s open 24/7 in case you need instant information, or even just a little hope and advice.

  • Cancer Support Community. Join their registry so you can share your own personal cancer story with you friends and family (one update that goes a long way), call their hotline when you need some instant support, or even find a local support group community. When they say they’re here to support you, you find every angle to do so.

  • Gateway for Cancer Research. Someone’s got to do the grunt work, right? This org raises funds to keep the research going, with all the hope in the world that there’s a cure out there — they just need to find it. Join an event in your area (invite your friends and fam!) for a little fun, while also paying towards a cancer-free future.

  • Imerman Angels. Want a glimpse into your future with cancer from someone who’s already been there? Imerman will hook you up with an “angel” who has had this cancer, is around your age, gender, and if possible, close to where you live. No one understands like someone who has been there, and Imerman gets that.

  • CancerCare. Aside from all the free resources and support groups they connect you with, one of this nonprofit’s biggest perks is free counseling — for the patient, their caregivers, and loved ones. Their oncology social workers will do an assessment to determine the best method and counselor for you. They also offer in-person sessions and small-group sessions (hello, family therapy).

  • Cancet.net. There are doctor sites and then there are patient sites — well, this site is infused with the knowledge of the doctor sites but breaks it down to help inform the patient. Fueled by the voices of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO; a doctor-center site), Cancer.net brings you trusted medical information and breaks it down into layman’s terms.

Erin L. Boyle
Meet Our Writer
Erin L. Boyle

Erin L. Boyle, the senior editor at HealthCentral from 2016-2018, is an award-winning freelance medical writer and editor with more than 15 years’ experience. She’s traveled the world for a decade to bring the latest in medical research to doctors. Health writing is also personal for her: she has several autoimmune diseases and migraines with aura, which she writes about for HealthCentral. Learn more about her at erinlynnboyle.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinLBoyle.