Cancer Care

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Vidant Health is transforming cancer care in eastern North Carolina. Our vision is to reduce mortality from this dreaded disease and to provide ready access to screenings and prevention, early intervention and quality, coordinated patient care.
At Vidant Health, we take every step of the cancer journey with you. We treat all types of cancer with the most current technology and highest clinical standards. Our holistic approach to care also includes preventive measures, educational resources, clinical trials and support and survivorship services. 

We also believe in the power of early. Early detection through cancer screenings and early treatment of cancer can make a big difference in your life and the lives of those you love. Knowing your risk can give you the power of early.

No matter what you need, it’s all here.

Why Vidant?

  • We offer a comprehensive team approach. When you become a Vidant Cancer Care patient, your case is thoroughly reviewed by providers with expertise in your specific condition – including oncologists, surgeons, nurses, therapists and more. They work together to understand every aspect of your case and develop the best treatment plan for you.

  • We keep you involved. We never forget the most important person on your cancer care team – you. We’ll keep you and your loved ones informed every step of the way. We will explain your diagnosis and treatment options in ways that everyone can understand.

  • We stay on the cutting edge. Vidant Health is proud to offer many of the newest screening tests and treatments, including minimally-invasive surgical techniques and other breakthrough technologies – often before other health care providers have access to them. We actively participate in and promote clinical trials, giving many patients access to treatment options that would not otherwise be available.

  • You receive expert care close to home. No matter where you live in eastern North Carolina, you have access to the knowledge and expertise of providers who have dedicated their lives to treating cancer. The network of Vidant-supported cancer care services spans across eight hospitals, five radiation oncology sites, three joint ventures and numerous outpatient clinics. The center of these resources is the Eddie and Jo Allison Smith Tower on the Vidant Medical Center campus in Greenville. The 418,000 square foot facility is home to both inpatient and outpatient cancer services under one roof, making treatment for patients much more convenient.

  • You can get a valuable second opinion. Many patients come to Vidant Health seeking a second opinion after receiving a cancer diagnosis from another provider. This can help them make a more informed decision about their treatment and care. At Vidant, we provide patients exploring second opinions with the same comprehensive evaluation process that we use for new cancer patients.

  • We’re with you every step of the way. Vidant Cancer Care offers every patient access to a cancer care navigator who will oversee your care. Your navigator will quickly become your new best friend and is always just a phone call away if you have questions or concerns. He or she is closely involved with your care and treatment plan and makes sure that you have access to support services and resources in your community or even on a state or national level.

  • We’re in this together. You won't be treated like just another patient here. Your cancer care team at Vidant Health is made up of real people who take the time to get to know you and your loved ones. We aren’t just faces that you see for a few minutes during appointments; we take your care as seriously as we would someone in our own family. Vidant Medical Center's Symptom Management Clinic offers same-day appointments for cancer patients who experience acute or severe symptoms. Learn more about the clinic.

  • We’re leading the way. We realize there’s no time to rest in the fight against cancer. As the leading resource for academic medicine in eastern North Carolina, our partnerships with providers offer advanced treatment options and care plans for patients from Ahoskie to Kenansville. Thanks to new technologies, providers throughout the region are able to collaborate real-time with multidisciplinary teams of experts who work together to develop a customized treatment plan for each patient. 

Vidant Cancer Care is not a single place. It is a fierce commitment to turn the tide against cancer for eastern North Carolina. It is a mission to improve the health and well-being of the 1.4 million people who proudly call this region home - because we believe in life without cancer.

Believe in the Power of Early

Cancer won't win. Not on our watch.

Learn More about Early Detection

Brain Cancer Services

A diagnosis of brain cancer is one of the most frightening events imaginable. This vital organ controls and regulates all of our physical processes – vision, speech, breathing, motor skills, etc. The brain also controls the things that make us unique as individuals – our thoughts, memory, behavior and emotions.

Only the best care available.

When you receive treatment for brain cancer at Vidant Health, you can rest assured that you’ll get the best care available, for both the physical and emotional aspects of your condition. Our team of specialists - including neurosurgeons, radiation oncologists, nurses and other medical professionals - have the training and experience needed to develop the best treatment plan for you.

Thanks fo advances in minimally-invasive procedures and radiosurgery, we can now treat many brain lesions that were once considered inoperable. Vidant Medical Center in Greenville is one of only two hospitals in North Carolina to offer Gamma Knife® radiosurgery, considered to be the "gold standard" of non-invasive treatment for brain disorders.

The most common brain cancers that we treat include:

You can learn more about brain tumors by visiting our online health library.

Treatment options for brain cancer include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Many patients will receive a combination of treatments. Your specific treatment plan will depend on several factors such as the type and grade of tumor, its location and size, and your age and general health.

As mentioned above, Gamma Knife radiosurgery is one of the most precise, proven and powerful treatments available for brain disorders. Your doctor can advise if this technology - available at Vidant Medical Center - is right for your situation.

Breast Cancer Services

Just the thought of breast cancer can be terrifying. It’s more than just a physical diagnosis. This is a very personal cancer. And all women are at risk, so it is critical to be vigilant in detecting the disease early, when it can be treated with greater success.

Women at average risk for breast cancer should practice preventive care to optimize their breast health. This includes breast awareness, clinical exams and mammograms.

For patients with family history or other known risk factors, we provide specialized services like genetic counseling and testing, as well as individualized screening and/or chemoprevention plans.

If you or someone you know has received a breast cancer diagnosis, rest assured that Vidant Health offers the high quality of care you need for the best possible outcome.

Your multidisciplinary breast cancer team is made up of highly-trained specialists, including breast surgeons, radiation and medical oncologists, nurse navigators, nutritionists, genetic counselors and more.

Our treatment options for breast cancer include surgery, radiation and systemic therapies including: hormone therapy and targeted agents. You may receive one or a combination of all of these therapies.

We specialize in minimally invasive techniques for biopsies and surgeries that work to remove the cancer while conserving healthy breast tissue.

We perform both lumpectomy and mastectomy procedures, including total nipple sparing mastectomy. Your physician team will determine which treatment is best for you.

We provide partial breast radiation, hypofractionation or standard whole breast radiation.

To learn more about breast cancer, visit our online health library.

Gastrointestinal Cancer Services

Gastrointestinal cancer refers to a group of cancers that affect the digestive system. As a group, these are the most common types of cancer.

Innovative treatment meets personal care.

Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy are all treatment options for gastrointestinal cancer. Our team of specialists will first work with you to determine exactly which type of cancer you have and what stage it has reached, as well as if it has spread to lymph nodes or other organs. These cancers can differ greatly in their symptoms and how fast-progressing they are, and your course of treatment depends on these and other factors.

At Vidant Health, you’ll find innovative diagnostic and treatment tools and technologies. Your care team will include experts from a variety of disciplines who will take the time to make sure you and your family have all the facts about your condition and exactly what your treatment will entail.

Gastrointestinal cancers include:

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Genitourinary Cancer Services

Cancers of the urinary and genital (reproductive) organs require special care at every stage.

Many people are reluctant to seek medical attention for symptoms related to these disorders because of the personal and private nature of the affected regions of the body. But these cancers continue to be a significant cause of illness in the US, with an estimated 26 million Americans affected by kidney and urologic disease and millions more at risk. (Source: National Kidney Foundation)

The good news is that these are also some of the most treatable forms of cancer when caught early, so regular screenings as recommended by your doctor are very important, as is proactively seeking care if you experience any symptoms.

Life-giving support.

At Vidant Health, we offer the latest screening, diagnostic and treatment services for these cancers. Once your particular condition has been fully diagnosed – including determining the type and stage – your treatment may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or a combination of these. Our urological specialists are located throughout the region and are ready to provide the expert care you and your family need to deal with this type of cancer. Genitourinary cancers include the following:

We realize that with these cancers, it’s not only about treating the specific disease. It’s also about getting you back to some of the most basic and personal functions of life. Our team of doctors, surgeons, oncologists, navigators and more understand your fears and concerns. And we’ll make sure to give you all the information and support you need as we provide the best treatment for the best outcome and future.

Gynecological Cancer Services

A woman’s body is designed to do amazing things, like bearing children. Her reproductive organs are complex and will undergo many changes during her lifetime, from before puberty to well after menopause.

Cancer that begins in any of a woman’s reproductive organs is referred to as gynecological cancer.

Like breast cancer, this disease can be very emotional for a woman, particularly if she is diagnosed during child-bearing years.

The main types of gynecological cancer include:

At Vidant Health, our specialists offer comprehensive care for women with gynecological cancer. There are many surgical options, from minimally invasive techniques like cryosurgery or laser surgery to hysterectomy if the cancer is in a more involved or advanced state. Radiation and chemotherapy are also treatment options.

Our mission is to provide the best possible care for our patients by using the latest proven techniques and working to find new treatments. We are part of the Gynecologic Oncology Group, a national cooperative organization that develops new therapies for gynecologic malignancies through the highest standards of scientific research and clinical trials.

Head & Neck Cancer Services

There are several types of cancer that start in the head and neck region. Every case — and every patient — is different. At Vidant Health, we know this is a serious diagnosis for you and your family to deal with. Rest assured that we have the knowledge and the experience needed to diagnose and stage your condition, as well as develop a treatment plan that’s best for you.

You have options.

Head and neck cancer can be local, recurrent or metastatic. As with many other cancers, these cancers may be treated with surgery, radiation or chemotherapy. Your care team will determine which options are best for you based on your exact cancer type and its stage.

Your case may be reviewed by a multi-disciplinary tumor board for head and neck cancer that meets regularly to share their expertise and discuss potential treatment options for specific patients. These discussions are confidential and give you and your doctor even more information to work with when deciding on your treatment plan.

Head and neck cancer can include and affect these areas:

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Hematology Cancer Services

Our body’s blood and lymphatic systems are complex, and so are these cancers. This is also an area where new treatments and therapies are being discovered frequently, and the talented specialists at Vidant Health work to stay on top of developments every day.

Blood cancers affect the production and function of your blood cells. Most of these conditions start in the bone marrow, where blood is produced. The three main types of blood cancers include leukemia (caused by the rapid production of abnormal white blood cells), lymphoma (which starts in cells that are part of the body’s immune system) and myeloma (a disease that targets plasma cells).

Some of the specific hematology-related cancers that we treat include the following:

Lung and Thoracic Cancer Services

Most of us take the ability to breathe for granted. But our lungs do important work as they move air in and out of our bodies.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. Smoking significantly increases the chance of developing lung cancer, but peopole who have never smoked may also get it.

Early detection is critical for treatment and survival. That's why Vidant Health has developed a screening tool for current and former smokers ages 55-77 who qualify. It's available at each of our hospitals and is allowing us to detect lung cancer at a higher rate than the national average.

Download the low-dose CT scan referral form

Varied forms of treatment for varied forms of cancer.

Fighting lung cancer can be stressful and challenging. We are prepared to help you.

The Vidant Health team is dedicated to providing timely and aggressive treatment for lung and thoracic cancer. Treatment options for these conditions include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Your specific plan of care may include only one or a combination of therapies. Learn more about our thoracic team..

We offer a multidisciplinary approach to lung cancer care. You have access to physicians and surgeons, pulmonologists, oncologists, nurses, social workers, pharmacists, nutritionists and other professionals who work not only with you but also with each other to create the best treatment plan for your individual case.

Our Thoracic Oncology Clinic patients benefit from the latest diagnostic and treatment tools, including:

  • New chemotherapy agents
  • Chemoradiotherapy
  • Bronchial stenting and balloon dilation
  • Cryotherapy (freezing) and electocautery (burning)
  • PET/CT scans for more accurate staging
  • Stereotactic radiosurgery for early stage patients who are not surgical candidates
  • Clinical trials

The main types of lung and thoracic cancer include:

We invite you to take a free online lung cancer assessment to learn more about your risk factors.

Other Cancers

There are many types of cancer that can start in virtually every part of your body. This website discusses many common types in greater detail, but if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with another form of cancer, you can count on Vidant Health to provide the same level of clinical expertise and comprehensive support for your situation as for any other.

In fact, for these less common cancers, our offerings of multidisciplinary consultations, team case reviews, navigator partners and personalized treatment plans become even more important. We use the latest treatment protocols and technologies to give you the most advanced treatment for a full range of cancer diagnoses. Your team consists of specialists from multiple areas who not only provide outstanding clinical care, but they also work well together to provide the best for you and your family – involving you every step of the way.

Some of these conditions include:

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Skin Cancer Services

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the world. It’s quite possible that you or someone in your family will experience a skin cancer diagnosis sometime during your life, so it’s important to know the facts.

Skin cancer treatment at Vidant Health involves close collaborations between all of the physicians involved in your case – including dermatologists, oncologists and sometimes plastic surgeons. Every pathology case from outside is reviewed closely by our team.

Your treatment plan is personalized based on your specific condition and other contributing factors like family situations and geographic location. We want to know about everything that might be a source of support or even a possible barrier to receiving the best care possible.

Surgery is often the first line of treatment for skin cancer. Some types of skin cancer lesions can be removed very easily and others may require a more extensive procedure. Laser therapy, radiation and chemotherapy are also common treatment options for shrinking tumors and killing cancer cells. Other treatments like immunotherapy and targeted therapy may also be used.

Care for your skin.

Since the main cause of skin cancer is ultraviolet radiation, it’s important to make avoiding sun overexposure a lifetime habit. Routine self-examinations and skin screenings mean earlier detection, which provides a better chance for successful treatment.

Since every skin cancer – and skin cancer patient – is different, it’s important to know exactly which type you’ve been diagnosed with. Types of skin cancer include the following:

Learn more about skin cancer in our online library.

Soft Tissue Cancer Services

Soft tissues are what hold the body together. They include muscles, tendons, fat, blood vessels, nerves and more. There are many kinds of lumps in the body’s soft tissues, and most are not cancerous. Even though these cancers are rare, it’s very important to be aware of any lumps and changes in your body. If you notice any changes, you should seek medical care.

There are many different types of soft tissue cancers because of the variety of locations in the body where they can develop. Two of the specific types of soft tissue cancer that we treat at Vidant Health include Ewing Sarcoma (which can start in either the bone or in non-bony soft tissue) and Leiomyosarcoma (which starts in the involuntary smooth muscles like those in the stomach, intestine and blood vessels).

Individual plans for individual people.

Treatments for soft tissue cancer depend on the type and stage of the cancer, as well as the size and location of the tumor. Your doctor will also consider factors such as your age and general health when recommending a treatment plan. Surgery and radiation are considered “local” treatments designed to remove, destroy or control cancer cells in one part of the body. Chemotherapy may also be used as a “systemic” treatment aimed at cancer cells throughout the entire body. Targeted therapies – special drug compounds designed to block certain types of cancer – may also be helpful in treating these conditions.

Rest assured that no matter how rare or complex your cancer is, Vidant Health gives you access to the latest diagnostic and treatment tools. We have specialists throughout our region who will work with you and with each other to make sure the best plan is in place to deal with your unique situation. In fact, each soft tissue cancer case is presented to our multidisciplinary team for review and collaboration.

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We're in this together

When you become a Vidant Cancer Care patient, you gain a cancer care team. Not a doctor for this and a doctor for that – you have a true team of medical professionals who work together to find the very best way to treat you and your cancer. And the best part – you and your family are the most important members of the team. You know what’s going on. You help make decisions. And you can ask all the questions you want.

Our cancer care physicians and providers have dedicated their lives to treating cancer. They’ve studied the disease for years and keep up-to-date with the latest research and technology surrounding cancer treatments. Working with you, we will examine all options. We will take time to explain available treatments, talk about the pros and cons and provide you with the support you need throughout the entire process. We aren’t just faces that you see for a few minutes during appointments. We’ll be here every step of the way.

Multidisciplinary Teams

We treat cancer with a multidisciplinary approach, which means that you have access to a full range of specialists, working together to deliver the best care for you. Your team may consist of surgeons, oncologists, radiologists, nurses, pharmacists, dietitians and other providers.

This approach is considered best practice by the National Cancer Institute and features leading-edge therapies, compassionate care, expert second opinions, support services, clinical trials and other resources.

Cancer Care Navigators

With You Every Step of the Way

The Vidant Health team of cancer care physicians and providers have dedicated their lives to treating cancer.

Cancer Care Navigators

With You Every Step of the Way

The Vidant Health team of cancer care physicians and providers have dedicated their lives to treating cancer.



Multidisciplinary Teams

We treat cancer with a multidisciplinary approach, which means that you have access to a full range of specialists, working together to deliver the best care for you. Your team may consist of surgeons, oncologists, radiologists, nurses, pharmacists, dietitians and other providers.

This approach is considered best practice by the National Cancer Institute and features leading-edge therapies, compassionate care, expert second opinions, support services, clinical trials and other resources.

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Multidisciplinary team



If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with cancer, you probably have a lot of questions and are feeling overwhelmed by all of the information you're receiving at the same time.

Relax. You don't have to figure out everything all at once. When you have a question, we hope you'll feel free to ask a member of your care team. But we've also gathered a lot of valuable resources here that you can review any time there's something on your mind.

Still have questions?

If you can't find what you're looking for on these pages, we're here to help you with the answers you need. We'll be happy to answer your questions.

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What To Expect

At Vidant Health, we know that a diagnosis of cancer is one of the most frightening, life-changing moments in your life. And we understand that every person and every situation is different. In the midst of so much uncertainty, you can rest assured that we will surround you with an entire team of professionals who are committed to providing the best clinical treatment available and compassionate support to get you and your family through this stressful time.

No matter where you live in our care area, you’re never far away from the highest quality medical, education and emotional resources you need to treat your illness. Most of all, we’re here to provide help and hope to cancer patients, survivors and their families.

Your diagnosis

With Vidant Health, you have access to the latest testing and screening tools and technology. We will work with you, your primary care physician and other members of your current health care team to quickly diagnose your condition, including the proper staging. Rest assured that we will do what it takes to know what we’re dealing with before moving on to recommending treatment options.

Your treatment

Our team of cancer specialists is ready to treat your cancer with the latest technology and the highest standards of clinical quality available. From cutting-edge surgical practices – including minimally invasive and radiosurgery treatments – to advanced radiation and chemotherapy regimens, we have access to and experience with many different treatment options.

We even offer alternative therapies such as genetic testing, immunotherapy and clinical trials to make sure that you receive every possible treatment that makes sense for your particular case.

You’ll also benefit from a multidisciplinary team of doctors, nurses, therapists and many other specialists who will work with you and each other to ensure that there are no gaps in your care and that everyone involved is familiar with every aspect of your situation.

Family & Friends

When a friend or family member is diagnosed with cancer, you may find yourself in the role of caregiver. This can mean many different things, depending on the situation. While it will likely deepen the bond you have with your loved one who is sick, it will also mean many changes for your life. We have included some information and practical tips on this page to help you cope with what lies ahead.

What is caregiving?

Caregiving can mean helping with day-to-day activities such as accompanying the patient to doctor visits, preparing food, assisting with personal care, helping with personal business and more. You may find yourself increasingly involved in important health care decisions as time goes by. And you will most likely always be giving emotional support.

It’s important during this time to recognize your own needs as well. In addition to getting physical breaks and rest from the caregiving tasks, it’s also vital that you take care of your own emotional needs – the fears and sadness that your loved one’s sickness has also brought to your life.

As a caregiver, some questions you might want to discuss with the care team include the following:

  • What symptoms do we need to tell you about right away and which ones can wait until the next appointment?
  • How do we reach you after office hours?
  • What side effects are common with this treatment? How can we deal with them if they occur?
  • What activities (personal, work, etc.) should the patient be able to continue and what should be limited or stopped for now?

Medical issues

If you will be involved in your loved one’s medical care, it’s important to get his or her consent to talk with their medical team. Because of laws protecting private health information, providers cannot discuss details of a patient’s condition or treatment without consent. Talk to the patient’s doctor about what steps you need to take so that the health care team can share information with you. The simplest thing to do is usually to have the patient sign a release form. Make sure that a copy is in the patient’s records and is kept up to date. You should also keep a copy for your files.

Going to doctor visits with the patient is a good way to learn more about his or her condition and how it is being treated. Use this time wisely to let the care team know of any new symptoms, to ask questions you’ve come up with and to be sure you know all the facts about the patient’s medications, especially if a new one is being prescribed. Never leave the office until your questions have been answered and you’re comfortable that you understand what happens next.

There is a lot to keep up with when you’re dealing with a cancer diagnosis and treatment. You’ll be receiving a lot of information, and much of it will be hard to understand. It helps to be organized, so consider using a notebook that you can take to each appointment and treatment session. This will allow you to keep everything together in one place. You’ll want to take detailed notes on topics like the exact type and stage of the cancer, the recommended treatment plan and medications (name, dose, purpose, etc.).

Legal Issues

In addition to obtaining consent to receive information about your loved one's diagnosis and treatment plan, there are other legal issues to consider. These are sometimes the most uncomfortable to talk about, but are vitally important. It’s a good idea to discuss these matters early on in the process, both to get it over with and to make sure it’s done while the patient is clearly able to make his or her own choices.

The two most important legal considerations are who will manage the patient’s money and who will make important health care decisions if he or she is unable to do so. If this happens, it is very helpful to have surrogate decision-making tools already in place.

A durable power of attorney allows another person (of the patient’s choosing) to make financial decisions on his or her behalf. It is strictly for financial and business matters, not health care decisions. Sometimes the caregiver who is primarily responsible for medical issues prefers to have their loved one choose a different person to handle financial matters.

A durable power of attorney for health care allows the patient to designate someone to make health care decisions if he or she becomes unable to do so. It is usually bestowed on a close family member or friend. It should be someone who completely understands the patient’s condition and wishes, and who will be able to honor those wishes even if they are different from what the designee would choose for themselves.

When a person is diagnosed with a potentially terminal illness, certain matters are important to consider and make decisions about. A few examples include the right to refuse treatment, documents like advance directives and living wills, palliative care and organ donation. There are many online resources to help you with these sensitive issues, and you may wish to consult an attorney to help guide you and your loved one through them.

Additional resources:

Frequently Asked Questions

Cancer Basics

Cancer Prevention & Detection

Signs & Symptoms of Cancer


10 Common cancer myths

Myth: Indoor tanning is safe.

Fact: There is no such thing as a safe tan. Indoor tanning is just as dangerous as tanning outside in the sun. In fact, indoor tanning causes thousands of injuries each year, causing patients to seek emergency care. Indoor tanning can also cause sunburn, eye damage and premature skin aging. Most dangerous is the fact that indoor tanning is a recognized cause of skin cancer, including deadly melanoma.

Myth: Cancer is an automatic death sentence.

Fact: In the United States, the likelihood of dying from cancer has dropped steadily since the 1990s. Five-year survival rates for some cancers – including breast, prostate and thyroid – now exceed 90%. The 5-year survival rate for all cancers combined is currently about 66%.

Myth: Artificial sweeteners cause cancer.

Fact: Researchers have conducted many studies on the safety of sugar substitutes and found no evidence that they cause cancer in humans.

Myth: Cancer surgery – or a biopsy – can cause cancer to spread.

Fact: The chance that a surgical procedure will cause cancer to spread to other parts of the body is extremely low. Surgeons follow strict protocols and use special techniques to guard against this, including using separate tools for each area.

Myth: Cell phones cause cancer.

Fact: According to the best studies completed so far, cell phones do not cause cancer. Cancer is caused by genetic mutations of a cell, and mobile phones emit a low-frequency energy that does not damage genes.

Myth: Antiperspirants or deodorants cause breast cancer.

Fact: After many studies, no evidence has been found linking the chemicals found in antiperspirants and deodorants with changes in breast tissue, including the formation of cancer cells.

Myth: You must have a family history of breast cancer to be at risk for the disease.

Fact: Only about 5-10% of breast cancer cases are thought to be inherited. Having a close relative with the disease does increase a woman’s risk, but most women who get breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease. All women must remain vigilant.

Myth: Cancer is always painful.

Fact: Some cancers never cause pain, especially in the early stages. Just as pain is not an automatic sign that something is cancerous, the absence of pain is not a foolproof sign that it is not.

Myth: An injury can cause cancer.

Fact: Falls, bruises, broken bones, etc. have not been linked to cancer. It’s true that sometimes cancer is discovered when a patient seeks medical care for an injury. But the injury did not cause the cancer; it was already there.

Myth: Cancer treatment is worse than cancer.

Fact: This is one of the most dangerous cancer myths. People who believe that treatment is worse than cancer might not get treatment that could save their lives. It’s true that some patients will experience uncomfortable side effects from surgery, radiation or chemotherapy. But there are many options for treating these symptoms. It is important to remember that cancer treatment often saves lives and side effects fade after the treatment has ended.

Glossary of terms




Treatment to remove or destroy all or part of a cancer. It can also mean removing or stopping the function of an organ. Besides surgery and drug treatment, other ways of ablating body tissues and tumors include using extreme heat, freezing, and chemicals.

Adjuvant therapy

Treatment used in addition to the main treatment. It usually refers to hormone therapy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or other treatments given after surgery to increase the chances of curing the disease or keeping it in check.


Hair loss, which can include body hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes as well as scalp hair. This often happens with chemotherapy treatment or radiation therapy. In most cases, the hair grows back after treatment ends.

Alternative therapy

Treatments that are used instead of standard treatments. Less research has been done for most types of alternative medicine. Alternative medicine may include special diets, megadose vitamins, herbal preparations, special teas, and magnet therapy.


Low red blood cell count.


A protein made by immune system cells and released into the blood to help defend the body against foreign agents, such as bacteria.

Ascending colon

The first of the 4 sections of the colon. The ascending colon begins at the end of the small intestine and extends upward on the right side of the abdomen to connect with the transverse colon.

Autologous stem cell transplant

A type of stem cell transplant that uses blood stem cells that are taken either from the patient’s bone marrow or bloodstream and are frozen, stored, and given back to the patient later.


Basal cell carcinoma

The most common type of skin cancer. It begins in the lowest layer of the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin), called the basal cell layer. It usually develops on sun-exposed areas, especially the head and neck. Basal cell cancer grows slowly and is not likely to spread to distant parts of the body.


Not cancer; not malignant.


The removal of a piece of body tissue to see if cancer cells are present.

Bone marrow

The soft, spongy tissue in the hollow middle of certain bones of the body. This is where new blood cells are made.

Bone marrow transplant

A treatment that replaces blood-forming stem cells in the bone marrow with new stem cells that come from the bone marrow of either the patient or a donor.


Internal radiation treatment that’s given by putting a radioactive source right into the tumor or close to it.

Breast cancer

Cancer that starts in the breast.


An exam in which a doctor looks at the inner lining of the bronchi and smaller airways in the lungs using a thin, flexible, lighted tube that goes down the throat.



A group of diseases which cause cells in the body to change and grow out of control.


Any substance that causes cancer or helps cancer grow.


Any substance that causes cancer or helps cancer grow.

Carcinoid tumors

Tumors that develop from nerve and endocrine cells, usually in the digestive tract or lung.


A cancer that begins in the lining or organs. Most cancers are carcinomas.

Carcinoma in situ

An early stage of cancer in which the cancer cells are only in the layer of cells where they first began and have not grown into nearby tissues or spread to other parts of the body.

Cervical cancer

Cancer that starts in the cells lining the cervix – the lower part of the uterus that connects the uterus to the vagina.


Treatment with drugs that kill cancer cells. Often called chemo.


The major part of the large intestine. The colon is a muscular tube about 5 feet long, divided into 4 sections – ascending, transverse, descending and sigmoid.


A procedure in which a doctor uses a thin, flexible, lighted tube to see inside the colon to look for polyps or cancer.

Colorectal cancer

Cancer that starts in the colon or rectum.


An opening created by surgery that attaches the colon to the skin on the belly to make a new path to get rid of solid body waste. A small pouch is placed at the opening to collect the stool.

Computed tomography scan

Also called a CT or CAT scan. An imaging test in which many x-rays are taken from different angles of a part of the body. These images are combined by a computer to make cross-sectional pictures that show details of internal organs much better than standard x-rays.


Descending colon

The third section of the colon. This section starts at the end of the transverse section and continues downward on the left side of the abdomen before connecting with the sigmoid colon.


A person who plans and calculates the correct radiation dose for each patient’s cancer therapy.

Ductal carcinoma in situ

A condition in which cancer cells are in the lining of the (breast) milk passages (ducts) but have not grown through the duct walls into the nearby tissue.


Abnormal cell changes that can be seen with a microscope and may lead to cancer.



Inspection of the inner linings of hollow body organs or cavities by inserting a thin, flexible lighted tube through a body opening such as the mouth or anus.


A hollow, muscular tube through which food passes from the mouth to the stomach. It lies behind the trachea and in front of the spine.

Ewing sarcoma

A type of cancer, usually starting in bone, that’s seen most often in children and teens. Most start in the pelvis or hip bones, the chest wall (such as ribs and shoulder blades), or the long bones of the legs.

External beam radiation therapy

Radiation from a source outside the body that’s focused on the cancer. Each treatment is much like getting an x-ray, but the radiation doses are much higher.


Gastrointestinal stromal tumors

Tumors that grow from special cells on the gastrointestinal wall. Most GISTs start in the stomach or small intestine. These tumors may or may not be cancer.

Gastrointestinal tract

Also called the GI tract or the digestive tract. It’s made up of the organs and structures that process and prepare food to be used for energy, including the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine.

Gene therapy

A type of treatment being studied in which defective genes would be replaced with normal ones. The new genes could be delivered into the cells by viruses or proteins.

Genetic testing

Tests that can be done to see if a person has certain gene changes known to increase the risk of cancer or other diseases. Such testing is not recommended for everyone, but for people with certain types of family history.


The grade of a cancer tells how abnormal its cells look under the microscope. There are different grading systems for different types of cancers. Grading is done by a pathologist who looks at sample tissue from the biopsy. Cancers with higher grades tend to grow and spread more quickly and have a worse outlook.


Hodgkin disease

A type of lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system) that’s often curable.

Hormone receptor

A protein on a cell’s surface or within the cell that binds to a hormone. Some tumors can be tested for hormone receptors to see if they can be treated with hormones or anti-hormones.


A special kind of care for people in the final phase of illness, as well as their families and caregivers. The care usually takes place in the patient’s home or in a home-like facility.

Human papilloma virus (HPV)

A common virus with more than 100 types, some of which cause changes in cells that can grow into cancer or warts. Nearly all cervical cancers are related to HPV, as are some cancers of the anus, penis, vagina, vulva, and urethra and some head and neck cancers.



The last part of the small intestine, which normally connects to the start of the large intestine (cecum).


Study of the immune system, including how the body responds to infection and other foreign challenges. Knowledge gained in this field is important to cancer treatments that activate the immune system and/or substances that behave like parts of the immune system to help fight cancer.


A process in which the immune system becomes weak and unable to respond the way it should. This condition may be present at birth, or it may be caused by certain infections (like HIV), cancer, or cancer treatments (such as chemotherapy and radiation).


Treatments that use the body’s immune system to fight cancer. This is done by boosting the patient’s own immune system or giving man-made immune system proteins.


A small amount of radioactive material placed in or near a cancer. Also, can mean a natural or artificial structure (called a prosthesis) put into the body to restore the shape or function of an organ after surgery; for example, a breast implant.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

A chronic condition (either ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease) in which parts of the intestine, including the colon, are inflamed over a long period of time and might have ulcers in the lining. IBD increases a person’s risk of colorectal cancer. Starting colorectal cancer screening earlier and doing the tests more often is recommended for people with IBD.

Inflammatory breast cancer

Also called inflammatory carcinoma or IBC. A type of invasive breast cancer with spread to lymphatic vessels in the skin covering the breast. The skin of the affected breast is red, feels warm, and may thicken to look and feel like an orange peel.

Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT)

An advanced method of conformal radiation therapy in which the beams are aimed from several directions, while the intensity (strength) of the beams is controlled by computers. This lets more radiation reach the treatment area while reducing the radiation to healthy tissues.


Proteins produced by cells that help regulate the body’s immune system, boosting activity when a threat, like a virus, is found. Man-made versions of interferon are used to treat some types of cancer.

Invasive (or infiltrating) ductal carcinoma

A cancer that starts in the milk passages (ducts) of the breast and then breaks through the duct wall, where it grows into the fatty tissue of the breast. At this point, it can spread elsewhere. It’s the most common type of breast cancer, accounting for about 80% of all invasive breast cancers.

Invasive cancer

Cancer that has spread beyond the layer of cells where it first began and has grown into nearby tissues.


Kaposi sarcoma

A type of cancer that grows from cells lining the blood vessels or lymph vessels. It can affect many tissues and organs, and often forms brown, purple or red blotches on the skin. It is caused by infection with a virus in the herpes family and is most often seen in people with weakened immune systems.


Laparoscopic surgery

Surgery using a narrow tube-like instrument called a laparoscope that’s put into the body through a small incision. Other tubes are put in other nearby incisions to allow the surgeon to work inside the body. A surgeon might use this method to remove tissue or an organ while watching the procedure on a TV screen. The small incisions led to the name “minimally invasive surgery.”


An examination of the inside of the abdomen using an instrument called a laparoscope that’s put in through a small incision.

Large intestine

The lower part of the intestine, running from the small intestine to the anus, which absorbs most of the fluid from the stool. It’s wider (but not longer) than the small intestine. The large intestine contains the cecum, colon, and rectum.


Surgery to remove the voice box (larynx), usually because of cancer.


An area of abnormal body tissue. May be used to describe a lump, mass, or tumor; also a spot or change in the way the skin looks or feels.


Cancer of the blood or blood-forming organs. Leukemias are often classified based on the types of cells in which they start (myeloid versus lymphoid) and by how quickly they are likely to grow (acute versus chronic).

Linear accelerator

Also called a linac. A machine used to create high-energy radiation beams for use in external-beam radiation therapy to treat cancer.

Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS)

A non-invasive type of breast cancer. It starts within the milk-producing glands (lobules) of the breast but does not grow through the wall of the lobules. It’s not a true pre-cancer because it’s not thought to go on to become an invasive cancer. But if a woman has LCIS, she is at higher risk of developing an invasive cancer in either breast later in life.

Local therapy

Treatment of cancer at its site, so that the rest of the body is not affected. Surgery and radiation are examples of local therapy.

Local transanal resection

Surgery for some small, early rectal cancers that is done with instruments put in through the anus, without cutting the abdomen.

Localized cancer

A cancer that has not spread to distant parts of the body. It’s still only in the organ where it started.

Low anterior resection

A surgical approach used for some cancers in the upper third of the rectum, close to where it connects to the colon. The incision is made through the abdomen, and the cancer is removed along with a margin of normal tissue, lymph nodes, and fatty and fibrous tissue around the rectum. The colon is re-attached to the part of the rectum that’s left so that a colostomy is not needed.

Low-dose rate brachytherapy (LDR)

Treatment in which pellets or seeds of radioactive material are placed inside cylinders or thin needles, and put into the cancerous area. They are left in place for days at a time, and sometimes permanently.


Any kind of mass in the body, especially on the body surface.


Surgery to remove a breast lump and a margin of normal tissue.

Lung cancer

Cancer that starts in tissues of the lung, usually in the cells lining air passages. There are 2 main types of lung cancer


Clear fluid that flows through the lymphatic vessels and contains white blood cells called lymphocytes. These cells are important in fighting infections.

Lymph node

A small, bean-shaped collection of immune system tissue found throughout the body along lymphatic vessels. They remove cell waste, germs, and other harmful substances from lymph. Cancers often spread to nearby lymph nodes before reaching other parts of the body. Sometimes called “lymph glands.”

Lymph node biopsy

A test in which all or part of a lymph node is removed and looked at under a microscope to find out if cancer has reached the lymph nodes.


A cancer of immune system cells called lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell). It often affects the lymphatic system, a network of thin vessels and nodes throughout the body that helps to fight infection. The 2 main types of lymphoma are Hodgkin disease and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.


Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

A method of taking detailed pictures of the inside of the body. Instead of using x-rays, MRI uses a powerful magnet to send radio waves through the body. The images appear on a computer screen as well as on film.


Cancerous; dangerous or likely to cause death if untreated.

Malignant tumor

A mass of cancer cells that may invade nearby tissues or spread (metastasize) to distant areas of the body. Not all cancers form tumors, and not all tumors are malignant.


Having to do with the breast.

Mammary lymph nodes

Lymph nodes that are inside the chest near the breastbone (sternum).


An x-ray of the breast; a method of finding breast cancer that can’t be felt using the fingers. Mammograms are done with a special type of x-ray machine used only for this purpose.


Any plastic surgery to rebuild the breast or to change the shape, size, or position of the breast.


In cancer surgery or biopsy, the tissue beyond the visible edge of the tumor or abnormal tissue that’s removed along with the tumor or area of concern in an effort to get all of the cancer.


Any sort of lump, which may or may not be cancer.


Surgery to remove all or part of the breast and sometimes other tissue.

Medical oncologist

A doctor who is specially trained to diagnose and treat cancer with chemotherapy and other drugs.


A cancerous tumor that starts in the cells called melanocytes that make the skin coloring. It’s almost always curable when found early, but it can spread quickly if not treated.


A rare cancer that starts in the covering of the lungs, heart, or the lining of the abdomen. An extremely rare form can affect the inner covering of the testicles.


The spread of cancer cells to one or more sites elsewhere in the body, often by way of the lymph system or bloodstream

Monoclonal antibodies

Man-made antibodies that are designed to lock onto certain antigens (substances that can be recognized by the immune system). Monoclonal antibodies have several uses in diagnosing and treating cancer. Research is still going on to learn more ways they can be used to find and treat cancer.

Multiple myeloma

A type of cancer that starts in the plasma cells.


A change in the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) of a cell. Most mutations do not cause cancer, and a few may even be helpful. But all types of cancer are thought to be due to mutations that damage a cell’s DNA.

Myeloablative treatment

Treatment that destroys the bone marrow. It’s often used before a stem cell transplant.

Myelodysplastic syndrome

A type of cancer in which damaged cells in the bone marrow make defective blood cells. Can sometimes progress to leukemia.

Myeloid leukemia

A type of cancer that starts in cells in the bone marrow that are supposed to mature into different types of blood cells. Myeloid leukemia can be chronic (CML) or acute (AML).


Needle aspiration

A procedure in which a thin, hollow needle is used to reach a cyst or tumor draw up bits of tissue or fluid to be looked at under a microscope.

Needle biopsy

A procedure to remove fluid, cells, or tissue with a hollow needle so that it can be looked at under a microscope.


Nerve abnormality or damage which causes numbness, tingling, pain, muscle weakness, and/or swelling. It may be caused by injury, infection, disease, or by drugs.


A doctor specializing in operations to treat nervous system disorders, which includes problems in the brain, spinal cord, and nerves.


A small, solid lump that can be felt or seen on an imaging test.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma

A large group of cancers that start in immune system cells called lymphocytes.

Non-small cell lung cancer

One of the main classes or categories of lung cancer, based on how the cells look under the microscope. Non-small cell lung cancer includes 3 major types



A doctor with special training in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.


The branch of medicine concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.


Palliative treatment or palliative care

Treatment that relieves symptoms, such as pain or nausea, but is not expected to cure disease. The main purpose of palliative care is to improve the patient’s quality of life, whether or not the patient is getting other treatment.

Pap test

A test in which cells are scraped from a woman’s cervix and looked at under a microscope to see if abnormal cells are present. Human papilloma virus (HPV) testing is often done at the same time.


A doctor who specializes in diagnosing and classifying diseases in the lab by testing and looking at cells under a microscope. The pathologist determines whether a tumor is cancer, and if cancer, the exact cell type and grade.


A growth from a mucous membrane on the inner lining of an organ such as the colon, rectum, uterus, or nose. Polyps may be non-cancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant).


Surgery or procedure to remove a polyp.

Positron emission tomography (PET scan)

An imaging test in which a small amount of a radioactive substance is injected into a vein, and a scanner is used to make computerized pictures of areas inside the body. The pictures can be used to find cancer cells in the body. PET scans can help find tumors or see how well a known tumor is responding to treatment. The pictures are not very detailed, but they show the whole body at once.


Refers to a condition that might, but does not always, become cancer.


A prediction of the course of disease; the estimated outlook for survival.


The spread or growth of a disease, with or without treatment.


A gland found only in men. It’s just below the bladder and in front of the rectum.

Prostate cancer

Cancer that forms in tissues of the prostate. Prostate cancer usually occurs in older men.


Surgical removal of all or part of the prostate gland.

Prostate-specific antigen (PSA)

A protein made by the prostate gland. Levels of PSA in the blood often go up in men with prostate cancer as well as other conditions. The PSA test is sometimes used to help screen for prostate cancer, and PSA levels are part of what determine the stage of a prostate cancer. The test can also be used to check the results of treatment, to look for cancer that has come back, and to help monitor advanced prostate cancer.


Radiation oncologist

A doctor who specializes in using radiation to treat cancer.

Radiation therapist

A person with special training to use the equipment that delivers radiation therapy.

Radiation therapy

Treatment with high-energy rays or particles to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. The radiation may come from outside the body (external radiation) or from radioactive materials placed in the body (brachytherapy or internal radiation).

Radiofrequency ablation

Treatment that uses high-energy radio waves to heat and destroy abnormal tissues.


A doctor with special training in diagnosis of diseases by interpreting or reading x-rays and other types of imaging tests.

Rectal surgery

Surgery to remove cancer in the rectum, which is often the main treatment for this cancer. Radiation and chemotherapy may be given before or after surgery.


The last part of the large intestine, between the sigmoid colon and the anus.


The return of cancer after treatment.


Complete or partial disappearance of the signs and symptoms of cancer in response to treatment.


Having to do with the kidneys.



A cancer that starts in connective tissue, such as cartilage, fat, muscle, or bone.


A test that uses x-rays, magnets, sound waves, or radioisotopes to make pictures of the inside of the body.


The search for disease, such as cancer, in people who do not have any signs or symptoms.

Side effects

Unwanted effects of treatment such as hair loss caused by chemotherapy or extreme tiredness (fatigue) caused by radiation therapy.

Sigmoid colon

The fourth and last section of the colon. The sigmoid colon attaches to the rectum, where waste matter is stored until it leaves the body through the anus.


A thin, flexible, hollow, lighted tube with a small video camera on the end. It’s put in through the rectum and advanced into the lower part of the colon. The sigmoidoscope is connected to a monitor so the doctor can look at the inside of the rectum and the lower part of the colon for cancer or for small growths that can become cancer (polyps).


A procedure in which a doctor uses a thin, flexible tube to look into the rectum and the last part of the colon to check for polyps or other abnormalities

Small cell lung cancer

One of the 2 main types of lung cancer grouped based on how the cells look under the microscope. Small cell lung cancer tends to grow and spread faster than the other type, non-small cell lung cancer.

Small intestine

The longest section of the intestinal tube. It breaks down food and absorbs most of the nutrients. The small intestine starts at the end of the stomach and leads into the large intestine.

Social worker

A health professional who helps people find community resources and support services, and provides counseling and guidance to help with issues like insurance coverage and nursing home placement.

Squamous cell carcinoma

Cancer that begins in the flat, non-glandular cells of the body, for example, the skin or the lining of some of the body’s organs.


The extent of a cancer, which is usually assigned a number from I to IV.


The process of finding out whether cancer has spread and if so, how far.

Stem cells

Any type of cell that can mature into different types of cells. In cancer treatment, the term usually refers to the immature blood cells found in the bone marrow and blood.

Stereotactic needle biopsy

A method of needle biopsy that may be used when a mass can be seen on imaging tests but can’t be felt. A computer maps the location of the mass and is used to guide the needle to the area of concern.

Stereotactic radiosurgery

A type of radiation therapy that focuses a single high dose of radiation at a tumor from many different angles, which limits the damage to nearby normal tissues. Though it’s called surgery, there’s no cutting. The treatment may be useful for tumors that are in places where regular surgery would harm essential tissue, for instance, in sensitive parts of the brain or spinal cord, or when the patient is not well enough to go through regular surgery


A doctor who repairs or removes parts of the body during operations.

Surgical biopsy

Removal of tissues using open surgery so that they can be looked at under a microscope to find out if they contain cancer cells.

Surgical margin

Edge of the tissue removed during surgery. A negative surgical margin means no cancer cells were found on the outer edge of the removed tissue, and is considered a sign that none of the cancer was left behind. A positive surgical margin means that cancer cells are found at the outer edge of the tissue removed and is usually a sign that some cancer remains in the body.

Surgical oncologist

A doctor who specializes in using surgery to treat cancer.


Targeted therapy

Treatment with drugs that attack some part of cancer cells that’s different from normal cells. Targeted therapies sometimes work when standard chemotherapy drugs don’t, and they tend to have fewer side effects than chemotherapy drugs.

Three-dimensional conformal radiation therapy (3DCRT)

Treatment that uses computers to very precisely map the location and the depth, width, and height of the cancer within the body. The patient may be fitted with a plastic mold much like a cast to keep them still and in the same position for each treatment so that the radiation can be aimed precisely. Radiation beams are then focused on the tumor from several directions. This reduces damage to normal tissues and allows higher doses of radiation to be used.

Transverse colon

The second section of the colon, a part of the large intestine. It’s called transverse because it goes across the body from the right to the left side.


An abnormal lump or mass of tissue. Tumors can be non-cancers (benign) or cancer (malignant).

Tumor markers

Substances made by cancer cells and sometimes by normal cells. Tumor markers may be useful in watching for a response to treatment after cancer is diagnosed, looking for cancer that has come back (recurred), or monitoring the progression of advanced cancer.



An imaging test in which high-frequency sound waves are used to make pictures of the inside of the body. The sound wave echoes are picked up and displayed on a computer screen.


A doctor who specializes in treating problems of the urinary tract in men and women, and problems in the genital area in men.



One form of radiation that can be used at low levels to make an image of the body or at high levels to kill cancer cells.

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