A cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming and often the most basic questions go unasked. Here are some common questions about cancer, answered.  

Am I at risk for cancer?

Though anyone can be diagnosed with cancer, several factors determine your risk level. Your age, medical history, and lifestyle all contribute to the risk of getting cancer. Your risk goes up if you smoke, make unhealthy food choices, consume too much alcohol, or do not get adequate physical activity. You are also at risk if you have a family history of cancer. Sometimes cancers are caused by DNA damage due to environmental factors such as too much exposure to the sun or toxic chemicals.

What is cancer?

Cancer is a genetic disease that occurs when mutated cells in your body begin to multiply rapidly. These mutated cells often form masses and tumors. Tumors can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Cancerous tumors could attack the tissues of your body. Cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body via the bloodstream or through lymph nodes in a process called metastasis.

Is cancer contagious?

Cancer isn’t like the flu or the common cold so you cannot catch it from someone who has been diagnosed.

Is there a vaccine for cancer?

Though there isn’t a vaccine for cancer, some vaccines combat viruses that are known to cause cancer. These viruses include the human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis B. HPV can cause cervical, anal, throat, and penile cancers. Research has linked the Hepatitis B virus to liver cancer. However, neither vaccine protects you against cancer itself.

What are the stages of cancer?

Cancer usually progresses through four stages. Stage 1 cancer refers to a small tumor that has been formed by mutating cells. These tumors haven’t grown deeply into nearby tissues. Stages 2 and 3 refer to a stage in which tumors have grown into surrounding tissues. They may have spread to the lymph nodes but often haven’t moved to other organs. Stage 4 refers to a state where cancer cells have spread to other organs. This is also called metastatic cancer.