Explaining metastatic cancer

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Blushing for a cause: We’re pink this October in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Cancer survival rates are on the rise, and that rise can be credited to a host of factors. Advancements in cancer research and treatment have played a big role in rising survival rates, as have the efforts of various organizations to promote cancer prevention and raise awareness about the disease.

The World Health Organization notes that between 30 and 50 percent of cancers can currently be prevented by avoiding certain risk factors and implementing evidence-based prevention strategies. However, people can be vulnerable to cancer if they do not pay attention to their bodies or make an effort to protect themselves against certain risk factors for cancer. In such instances, cancer may already have spread to other parts of their bodies, or metastasized, before they are even diagnosed, greatly reducing their likelihood of surviving the disease.

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Cancer that spreads to distant parts of the body is known as metastatic cancer and is often referred to as “stage IV cancer.” According to the National Cancer Institute, when observed under a microscope, metastatic cancer cells feature traits like that of the primary cancer and do not mimic the cells in the part of the body where the cancer is found. That is how doctors can tell that the cancer is metastatic cancer and has spread from another part of the body.

When doctors diagnose metastatic cancer, they will refer to it with the same name as the primary cancer regardless of where the metastatic cancer was discovered. For example, the Institute notes that breast cancer that has spread to the lungs will not be referred to as lung cancer, but metastatic breast cancer. In addition, when treating the disease in this example, doctors will treat the cancer as stage IV breast cancer, not as lung cancer.

Understanding metastatic cancer can help recently diagnosed men and women better comprehend their disease and their prognosis.

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