After finding out you have cancer, you may feel shocked, anxious, upset, or confused. These are all normal responses. Everyone reacts differently and there is no right way to feel. You may find it helpful to talk to family and friends about your feeling. Talk about your treatment options with your doctor and seek as much information as you need.
The main types of medical cancer treatment used in Australia are:
- hormone therapy
- targeted therapy
Your doctor may recommend treatments based on many factors, including:
- the type of cancer
- the stage of cancer
- your age
- your general health
- your own preferences
Research and evidence around the medical use of cannabis for cancer treatment is limited in proving its effectiveness and does not yet support the application of cannabis in cancer care. Evidence indicates that medicinal cannabis may provide a limited benefit for people affected by chemotherapy-induced nausea, however the quality of these studies limits the ability to translate this into practice. When symptoms are deemed refractory (not responding to treatment), a doctor on behalf of their patient, can request access to medicinal cannabis products to relieve pain associated with cancer symptoms and side effects of cancer treatment through the TGA Special Access Scheme or an Authorised Prescriber or an available clinical trial.
There are also complementary and alternative medicine treatments for cancer, which can help you cope with the signs and symptoms of cancer and cancer treatments, such as pain, anxiety, fatigue, nausea, difficulty sleeping, and stress. Some of these treatments include relaxation, talking therapies, meditation, visualisation, acupuncture, aromatherapy, reflexology, music therapy, art therapy and massage. The following treatments are most often used:
- Touch therapies involve working with the physical body and include acupuncture, aromatherapy, reflexology and massage.
- Mind body therapiesare designed to enhance the mind’s capacity to affect the body’s function and symptoms and include meditation, guided imagery and hypnosis.
- Talking therapies offer emotional support. This can be one-on-one with a trained counsellor, or in a group of people who come together to share their experiences and support each other. There are also peer support programs that connect you or your family member with a trained volunteer who has had a similar experience.
- Lifestyle approaches such as a healthy diet and regular exercise may help you feel better or help to relieve symptoms such as fatigue.
Speak with your doctor if you are thinking about trying complementary and alternative medicine treatments.
Stages of cancer
The stage of a cancer describes how far the cancer has grown and spread at the time of diagnosis. It involves having scans, biopsies and other tests. Knowing the stage of a cancer is important because it helps doctors to work out the best treatment options, and allows the person with cancer to understand their situation and discuss any concerns they have. The numbered system and TNM system are used to describe the stage of cancer. The TNM system uses three categories represented by the letters TNM, each followed by a number or letter showing the extent of the cancer:
- Stage 0 cancer: Abnormal cells are present but have not spread from where they started. It is often referred to as ‘in-situ’ cancer.
- Stage 1 cancer: The cancer is small and has only spread a little into nearby tissues. It has not spread to any lymph nodes or other body areas.
- Stage 2 and 3 cancer: The cancer is larger or has spread into nearby tissues or lymph nodes.
- Stage 4 cancer: The cancer has spread to other areas of the body. Stage 4 cancer is also called metastatic cancer or advanced cancer.
- T (tumour): T shows how large the tumour or primary cancer is and whether it has spread into nearby tissues. The numbers 1 to 4 are used to provide information about this.
- N (nodes): N shows whether the cancer has spread into any nearby lymph nodes and how many nodes are involved. 0 means no lymph nodes are affected, while the numbers 1 to 3 show that nodes are involved and indicate how many.
- M (metastasis): M shows whether the cancer has spread from where it started to other parts of the body, which is known as metastasis. 0 means no spread and 1 means it has spread.
Remission means that the signs and symptoms of your cancer are reduced. Remission can be partial or complete. In a complete remission, all signs and symptoms of cancer have disappeared. If you remain in complete remission for 5 years or more, some doctors may say that you are cured.
National Cancer Organisations
Cervical cancer is the growth of abnormal cells in the lining of the cervix. Precancerous changes in cervical cells rarely cause symptoms. The only way to know if there are abnormal cells that may develop into cancer is to have a cervical screening test. If early cell changes develop into cervical cancer, the most common signs include vaginal bleeding between periods, menstrual bleeding that is longer or heavier than usual, pain during sex, bleeding after sex, pelvic pain, a change in your vaginal discharge, and vaginal bleeding after menopause. These symptoms can be caused by other conditions but if you are worried or symptoms persist, contact your doctor.
HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer. Cervical Cancer is only visible and detectable by a cervical screening test. Cervical screening tests can be accessed by people with a cervix between ages 25-74, and you have the choice between a self-collected vaginal sample or a clinician-collected sample from the cervix. Both these tests are accessed through a healthcare provider. Anyone with a cervix, regardless of your body, gender or sexuality, needs a cervical screening test. If your cervical screening test returns a positive result for HPV infection, your doctor will advise on next steps according to your specific circumstances.
To lower your chance of developing cervical cancer, it is recommended to receive the HPV vaccination (available for people with a cervix aged 12-15), practice safer sex, choose not to smoke, and get your cervix tested.
Breast cancer is the abnormal growth of cells lining the breast ducts and lobules. The cells grow uncontrollably and over time, can spread into surrounding breast tissue. This is called ‘invasive breast cancer’. It has the potential to spread to other parts of the body.
Some of the symptoms of breast cancer to monitor may include new lumps or thickening in the breast (especially if only in one breast), nipple sores or change in shape of the nipple, changes in the size or shape of the breast, skin of the breast dimpling, and ongoing pain in one breast that is not related to your menstrual cycle. Some people have no symptoms, and the cancer is only found during a mammogram or examination by a doctor. Some of the factors that increase your risk of breast cancer include increasing age, family history, starting your period before the age of 12, and lifestyle factors including being overweight, drinking alcohol, and a lack of physical activity.
It is easier to notice changes to your breasts when you are familiar with how they look and feel. From your 20s onwards, it is recommended to do the following checks once a month: Stand in front of a mirror with your hands on your hips and shoulders straight. Look at the shape, colour and size of your breasts and nipples. Next, while still looking in the mirror, raise your arms in the air and look for the same things – shape, colour and size of your breasts and nipples.
It is recommended to receive a mammogram every 2 years, which are freely accessible from the age of 40 via the BreastScreen Australia program. If you notice any changes in your breasts, consult your doctor.
Ovarian cancer is a disease where some of the cells in one or both ovaries start to grow abnormally and develop into cancer. Ovarian cancer does not usually cause noticeable symptoms in its early stages and is often diagnosed at an advanced stage. Some of the commonly reported symptoms are increased abdominal size or persistent abdominal bloating, abdominal or pelvic pain, feeling full after eating a small amount and needing to urinate often or urgently. It is important to remember all the symptoms can be caused by other, less serious medical conditions. However, if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, which are persistent and troublesome, you should see your doctor. If you don’t have symptoms but you feel like something is wrong, see your doctor – you know your body better than anyone else.
Ovarian cancer is usually treated with surgery, often followed by other treatments. Ovarian cancer is more common in older women and those with a family history of cancer of the reproductive organs. If you have strong risk factors for ovarian cancer, you may wish to discuss your options with your doctor.
Bowel cancer is a common cancer. If detected early, 90% of cases can be treated successfully. Symptoms of bowel cancer might include blood in the stool, abdominal discomfort, and a change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation.
If you are aged between 50 and 74 years, you will be sent a free, simple test through the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. This tests for blood in your poo, which may be a sign of bowel cancer. You can do this test at home and post the samples off for testing. It’s recommended you do this test every two years. If you get a positive result, your doctor may recommend a follow-up test such as a colonoscopyit .