HOW TO LIVE: Although knowledge of available treatments is helpful, how do you know where to turn when you receive a cancer diagnosis? Amy Abernethy, M.D., an oncologist at the Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, N.C., helps patients dealing with cancer every day. She says one of the most important steps you can take when dealing with your own diagnosis is to find a doctor you're comfortable with. "It needs to be someone you can trust," Dr. Abernethy told Ivanhoe. "This is a person who you can talk to, who you can have a real conversation with, even when you're scared and you don't know what else to do." She also advises gathering a group of medical professionals together to talk to you about your case. Developing a long-term treatment plan is also a good idea. The plan should account for the possibility of things not going as expected. Another good tip is to ask your doctor about clinical trials for your particular type of cancer. "If you've got a rare kind of cancer, a cancer that hasn't been shown to be previously responsive to chemotherapy or radiation, then a clinical trial may be the best plan up front," Dr. Abernethy said. If you need to prepare for the worst, don't be afraid to make the plans surrounding death and caring for your family thereafter. Dr. Abernethy says doing things like arranging your funeral, taking care of your will and doing financial planning for your family are often a positive experience. "One of the special things about people with cancer is that often, in a very loving way, they're taking care of the people around them as much as the people around them are taking care of the person with cancer," she said.
The American Cancer Society estimates about 1,500 people die of cancer every day, and an astounding 43 percent of Americans will become cancer victims if numbers continue at their current rate. Cancer is well on its way to overtaking heart disease as the number one killer in the United States. Understanding how cancer works and what makes certain people and populations more susceptible to it is a puzzle with many missing pieces; however, the creation of the microscope in the 19th century opened the door to the modern pathologic study of cancer. Today, it's recognized that certain substances may cause cancer, like tars, aniline, radiation and asbestos. TREATMENT OPTIONS: The traditional route of cancer treatment includes one or all of the following: radiation, chemotherapy and surgery. Cancer treatment is often just as hard on healthy tissue as it is on cancer tissue, but new understandings about how the disease works are leading to innovative treatments. For example, a drug called imatinib mesylate (Gleevec) treats one form of leukemia by targeting the chromosome that prevents bone marrow from creating abnormal white blood cells. A new drug showing promise in clinical trials targets a mutated protein that fuels the production of breast cancer cells. It not only attacks the tumor cells, but also shuts down the blood vessels supplying the tumor.