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Cancer: What You Need to Know

When the Diagnosis Is Cancer

The news comes like a sledgehammer into the stomach: "I'm sorry to tell you, but you have cancer."

Every year, a million Americans are devastated by news of cancer or another dreaded disease. What soon follows is an avalanche, a tidal wave of emotions: fear, anger, bewilderment, indecision, and the need to reach out to a family member or a loved one for support and encouragement. In their lifetimes, half of all men and one in three women will develop a form of cancer.

Quite often, a person's first reaction is to think, "No way, not me. I'm a good person," as if the cancer resulted as a punishment for unresolved issues. This is not true. Then comes an overwhelming need to get information. And that is probably why you are reading this.

You need to become the best and smartest patient your doctor ever had, simply because you need to be.

For most people, the cancer can be cured or controlled by surgery and, in some cases, by combinations of radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Never before has the outlook for cancer treatment and cure been so hopeful. For a proportion of people, however, the cancer continues to spread. This can be a devastating development. Those coping with cancer can become distracted by feelings of anger and hostility, not only toward the cancer but also toward the doctors and nurses trying to help. This is a normal reaction.

There are those who say: "If the cancer progresses, it must mean that I did not try hard enough." That is never the case. Attitude does matter, but not in the way we often think it does. We have learned from the long-term cancer survivors that it takes social support and connectedness on this journey.

Last Reviewed 11/20/2017
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18 Cancer Symptoms

Different kinds of cancer have different, unique symptoms. Some of the following symptoms definitely require medical attention and may indicate cancer.

  • Persistent cough or blood-tinged saliva
    • These symptoms usually represent simple infections such as bronchitis or sinusitis.
    • They could be symptoms of cancer of the lung, head, and neck. Anyone with a cough that lasts more than a month or with blood in the mucus that is coughed up should see a doctor.
  • A change in bowel habits
    • Most changes in bowel habits are related to your diet and fluid intake.
    • Doctors sometimes see pencil-thin stools with colon cancer.
    • Occasionally, cancer exhibits continuous diarrhea.
    • Some people with cancer feel as if they need to have a bowel movement and still feel that way after they have had a bowel movement. If any of these abnormal bowel complaints last more than a few days, they require evaluation.

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