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.

    Our Pro PanelCancer

    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 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
    Patti and her son
    Living With Metastatic Breast Cancer

    Becoming a Mother When You Have an Incurable Disease

    As a woman living with metastatic breast cancer, Patti faced a seemingly impossible decision: live in fear or live for right now. She chose today. What would you do?

    Six symptoms of cancer: a weird lump, fatigue, pain, blood in urine or stool, weight changes, coughing
    Nikki Cagle
    Common cancer treatments: precision medicine, surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy
    Nikki Cagle

    Frequently Asked QuestionsCancer

    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.

    Erin L. Boyle

    Erin L. Boyle


    Erin L. Boyle, the senior editor at HealthCentral from 2016-2018, is a freelance medical writer and editor.