Cancer Terms can Be Confusing

OK, so your oncologist has diagnosed cancer. Your mind is racing. Your body is squeamish. You have no idea what comes next. And you probably didn’t hear much after the doctor said, “You have cancer.”

Hey, you’re normal! But now is the time to focus.

First, your cancer is not like your parents’. Or your friends’. Your cancer is unique – like you are one of a kind. When the doctor begins to discuss the diagnosis and talk through treatment options, many factors will go into consideration.

You’ll also need to consider a caregiver. This is not because you’re helpless. It’s because a caregiver can alleviate a lot of the stress you’re going to put on yourself. (Trust us; everyone amps up the angst levels during the time they’re wrapping their arms around cancer.)

When you’re talking with the doctor, whether a conventional oncologist or a natural or integrative doctor, some words may scare you.

Late-stage cancer. Metastatic cancer. Stage IV cancer. Recurrent cancer.

While these terms may overlap, they don’t always mean the same thing. The doctor will discuss your diagnosis and proposed treatment. After that, it is your choice of how to attack the disease.

Here are some of the phrases you will hear:

Advanced cancer

Advanced-stage cancer is not in any medical dictionary. What the doctor is referencing is cancer that is unlikely to be cured. If you have advanced cancer, your focus will be on the quality of life. Bottom line: Cancer will be managed as a chronic illness for the rest of your life.

Metastatic cancer

If your cancer is metastatic, it has spread from where it began into another part of the body. If you have breast cancer and it spreads to your bones, brain, or lungs, it’s still breast cancer. To that end, the doctor will treat it as breast cancer, no matter where it has metastasized. If breast cancer spreads to another part of the body, then those tumors are considered secondary cancer.

Stage IV cancer

You’re probably familiar with how cancer is termed – Stage 0, Stage I, Stage II, Stage III, Stage IV. (Stage 0 notes that abnormal cells have not turned into cancer ­– yet.) For Stage I-III, often, it is determined by how cancer has spread to nearby tissues. Stage III and Stage IV cancers are considered late-stage. If cancer has metastasized (moved to another part of the body), it generally is a Stage IV cancer.

Recurrent cancer

If you had cancer and it was “cured” – inactive or undetectable – and it comes back, this is recurrent. Cancer may come back to the same place, or it could be in another part of the body. It often is harder to treat recurrent cancer; the cells are resistant to methods used to manage primary cancer. Brain cancer (glioblastomas), for example, recurs in nearly all patients.

The recurrence rate for types of cancer: [1]

  • Bladder – 50% after cystectomy
  • Breast – 30% overall; 5-9% with letrozole or placebo during median 10.6 years
  • Colon –17% after curative surgical resection with microscopically clear margins
  • Glioblastoma – Nearly 100%
  • Head and Neck, Stage IV – 17% locoregional; 22% distant after hyper fractionated multiagent chemoradiotherapy.
  • Hodgkin Lymphoma – 10113% after primary treatment; 20-50% after second-line treatment
  • Kidney – 13% (49% after complete response to tyrosine kinase inhibitor therapy)
  • Lymphoma, DLBCL8 – 30-40%
  • Lymphoma, PTCL9 –75%
  • Melanoma – 15 41% depending on stage; 87% metastatic disease
  • NSCLC – 26% after curative surgery; 27% after chemoradiotherapy for locally advanced disease
  • Ovarian – 85%
  • Pancreas – 36% within 1 year after curative surgery; 38% local recurrence after adjuvant chemotherapy; 46% distant metastasis after adjuvant chemotherapy
  • Prostate – after prostatectomy at 10 years: 24% low-risk disease; 40% intermediate-risk disease; 48% high-risk disease
  • Soft Tissue Sarcoma – 50% after adjuvant chemotherapy; nearly 100% for advanced disease
  • Thyroid – up to 30% for differentiated thyroid carcinoma; 8-14% after surgery for medullary thyroid carcinoma

As you can see, the odds are stacked against you. It may be somewhat overwhelming. If you have been diagnosed with cancer, the cost of treatment may be a concern. Outside of the actual cancer treatment, there are also potential travel costs, food, lodging, etc. You may need in-home care or other medical equipment.

LifeGuide Partners can work with you to achieve your healthcare goals. The experts at LifeGuide Partners will offer a free, no-risk appraisal of your existing life insurance policy. This is a no-string-attached assessment of your plan, which could provide the cash needed for treatments or pay other bills and relieve the angst and anxiety that comes with a cancer diagnosis.

Understand the words your doctor says, and ask questions if there is anything you’re unsure about. And in the end, do not let money be a factor in the level of treatment you receive to fight the disease.



[1] Cancer Recurrence Statistics.

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