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What is cancer, how it develops and how it can be treated
Understanding most dreaded of diseases
Published Thursday, March 2, 2017 1:24 pm
by Ashley Mahoney

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles on cancer as part of The Post’s “Racing Against Cancer” initiative to raise awareness of the disease and its impact.

Cancer. You’ve heard the word thousands of times, but what is it?

“The human body is composed of a trillion cells,” said Dr. Nusrat Chaudhary of Novant Health Multidisciplinary Cancer Clinic. “They are constantly dividing. They are constantly dying. There’s an orderly maturation pattern to those cells. When cancer develops, what happens is it’s almost like there’s a switch that goes on, and the cancer cells start dividing abnormally – it can be any part of the body—and they don’t die. They start growing really rapidly, and they can form either a tumor, or if they are in the bloodstream, they can cause abnormal foundations of your white blood cell count, your hemoglobin, your red blood cell count, and they have the propensity to spread.”

Certain terms come with cancer, such as an oncologist like Chaudhary, who specializes in treating the disease. Doctors differentiate the severity of cancer based on another term—staging.

“Staging is a way that we can, as physicians, kind of classify each patient to help us decide what treatment they need, and what their prognosis is,” said Dr. Jennifer Dallas of Novant Health Multidisciplinary Cancer Clinic. “It’s a way to group patients.”

Staging separates cancer into a number system based on tumor growth and metastazation or spread.

“Each cancer is staged differently, but for the most part, there’s stage 1 to 4, with 1 being the smallest tumors that have not spread, and 4 being larger tumors that have spread to other parts of the body,” Dallas said. “For the most part, stage 4 tumors tend to be incurable, which is not in every tumor type. There are some, especially testicular, where stage four can be curable. It does give us some information about prognosis, and helps us decide what treatment the patient needs. Every tumor type is different. I think that’s very important for patients to realize. It’s very important to talk with your doctor about what your stage means.”  

Said Chaudhary: “They have to have a real understanding of what type of cancer they have, what stage it is and what treatment options are available to them, but then also what comes into play is your support system—your support network.”

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