Common Cancer Terms Defined
When I was young, my mom once called me “Sissy Cystie.” We did not understand I had a genetic condition causing cysts, benign tumors, and in a few cases cancers. We had hope my body would eventually grow out of the terrible phase. We were in the midst of much confusion. Upon learning I have Multiple Hamaratoma Syndromeall joking in regard to what I experienced was over. People with MHS form lumps and bumps in various places of their bodies. I am no stranger to finding lumps in various places of my body whether accidentally or on scans. I understand the reaction of confusion and fear..
The first question when finding something unusual should be “is it benign or malignant?” Because there is always a question, it is important to go to the doctor for a scan before you notice any changes in the lump. People experience confusion with the words benign and malignant at times.
A benign tumor is not a harmless tumor. Many people die due to the effects of benign tumors. Benign tumors can be dangerous because of where they grow-certain places of the brain, for example. Benign tumors can also be dangerous if they grow to be very large. I had benign cysts covering my thyroid gland and if they were not removed, I would not be able to breathe by now due to the size they were approaching. . A benign tumor is one that will not spread to other areas of the body.
Malignanttumors are the cancerous ones and because they spread to other organs in the body they are the more feared. Usually tumors work by shutting off at least some function of whatever organ from which they originate. Benign tumors stay with the same organ even though they may grow.Malignant tumors move around to other organs. If the malignancy, or cancer, is not caught in time, malignant tumors spread to other organs and eventually stop their function. When a malignant tumor has spread, it is referred to as metastasized.
Relapse and recurrenceare terms sometimes causing confusion.. To relapse means the cancer returns in a period of five years or less following cessation of treatment. Survival odds usually reflect cure rates by those who survive for a period of five years or more after treatment ceases. Cancer can return after five years. The exact odds are not known but it does happen. The dysgerminoma I was diagnosed with at age nine returned when I was fifteen, for example.
When cancer comes back after a period of five years, the technical term to use is recurrence. My dysgerminoma case was treated as a recurrence. Someone who has a recurrence is treated as having two separate cases of the disease. Because I had two cases of dysgerminoma and have been free from both cancers for longer than five years, medical statistics reflect this as two cases of survival.
Remission is the word all cancer survivors hope for and it is the word used when cancer appears to be gone. Someone in remission has been free from cancer based on scans for a period of less than ten years. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospitaldefines cure as being ten years from signs of the initial cancer. Patients become alumni and are dismissed from the hospital during their tenth year in remission. This is information I did not find online but know from personal experience.
Some long-term survivors of cancer may face asecondary diagnosis leading to more confusion. Some chemotherapy, radioactive scans, and radiation may increase the odds of another type of cancer. In my case, I was free from dysgerminoma for fifteen years the second time when I was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ. The odds of a secondary cancer diagnosis are different depending on age, tumor type, strength and use of different chemotherapy types, radiation, genetic conditions that cause a tendency to form cancer, and other factors.
Secondary cancer diagnoses are a confusing condition to describe as two cancers appearing at the same time can mean metastasizedcancer or two different types of cancer. In these cases, secondary cancer diagnosis usually means the first location of the cancer is the primary cancer diagnosis and the place where it has moved to is secondary. Cases of two different types of cancer such as brain cancer and thyroid cancer appearing at the same time tend to be rare and as such may not have a medical term to define them. In some cases, two different types of cancer may be present in the same organ. When two different types of cancer are in the same organ, such as the breast, the more aggressive type becomes the major focus.
While aspects of what I have written are frightening, even to myself who has been through a recurrence and a secondary cancer diagnosis, it is important to know these occurrences are rare. Also, if you succeed in winning the battle against one cancer type it does not mean you will not win the battle against a secondary one. The important take away from this is to have unusual lumps checked out as soon as possible. If there appears to be cancer, it is important to live your life one day at a time. If the lump is cancer, do not assume it to be the end of the world. My first cancer diagnosis was 24 years ago this approaching October 7 and I am not alone among the survivors.
*A lot of personal experience