Learning about the type of cancer the person in your family has and the treatment being used will help you understand what is happening to your family member. Both of these are important to know about because there are more than 100 different types of cancer, and the treatment for each type is different. Also, there may be more than one way of treating a type of cancer, so people who have the same kind of cancer may not even get the same treatment. Treatment will depend on how old the patient is, whether the cancer has spread to other places in the body, and what the doctors think is best for each patient.
Treatment will usually follow a protocol (PRO-to-kol), which is a plan for treating cancer. However, even if two people have the same type of cancer and the same treatment, the treatment may not work the same way for both of them. So, if you know or hear of someone who has had the same type of cancer and treatment as your family member, and that person did not do well, it doesn't mean that your family member isn't going to get well. It is important to remember that each person is different and can react to treatment differently.
What Is Cancer?
Cancer is a group of more than 100 diseases. Each type of cancer has its own name (such as lung cancer, breast cancer, leukemia), its own treatment, and its own chances of being cured. Each type of cancer is different from the others in many ways, but every cancer is the same in this way: Certain cells become abnormal and grow without control.
The millions of tiny cells that make up the human body are so small that they can be seen only by looking through a microscope. Although there are different kinds of cells, such as hair cells, skin cells, and blood cells, each type of cell makes new cells by dividing into two. This is how worn out, old cells are replaced with new ones.
What happens when someone has cancer is that a cell changes and doesn't do the job it should do for the body. When a cancer cell divides, it makes more cells like itself-cells that are not normal. These cells keep dividing into more cells. Eventually, they crowd out and destroy the normal, healthy cells and tissues the body needs.
A group of cells that keeps growing and crowding out normal cells is called a tumor (TOO-mur). There are two kinds of tumors. A benign (bee-NINE) tumor is not cancer. The cells of a benign tumor can crowd out healthy cells, but they cannot spread to other parts of the body. A malignant (ma-LIG-nant) tumor is cancer. Like a benign tumor, it can crowd out healthy cells around it. Unlike a benign tumor, however, a malignant tumor also can spread to other parts of the body. To do this, a cell or group of cells breaks away and moves, usually through the blood or lymphatic system, to other parts of the body. There they divide and grow and form tumors made up of cancer cells like the cells they came from. When this happens, it is called metastasis (me-TAS-ta-sis).
Cancer: It's Not Contagious
Scientists know that you can't "catch" cancer from someone who has it. It does not spread like chicken pox or the flu. You can't catch it from being with a person who has cancer or by drinking from the same glass as that person. You may know that you can't "catch" cancer, but you may wonder if having someone in your family who has cancer means that you also are going to get cancer. Instead of worrying, it is best to talk with your parents and the doctor about this. They can tell you that cancer usually doesn't run in families, and you can talk about what scares you.