Important Cancer Terms You Need to Know

Cancer. It’s a scary word that represents a very real and scary reality for too many people. If you or a loved one suffers from cancer, there are a few important cancer terms you need to know that are unique to the field of oncology (the study of tumors). Read below to learn more about tumor types, stages of cancer, causes and treatments.

Tumor types

There are two main categories of tumors:

  • Malignant tumors are made up of cells that have divided and multiplied rapidly. They can be life threatening when the cells spread to other parts of the body.
    • Carcinoma – The most common form of cancer, carcinoma develops from sheets of cells that cover a surface, like the skin, or a body cavity lining, like the stomach.
    • Sarcoma – A rare form of cancer that arises from connective and supportive tissues, like bone, fat, muscle or other tissues in the body.
  • Benign tumors are non-cancerous growths that don’t spread to other parts of the body. These tumors can be removed.

The five stages of cancer

  • Stage 0. The cancer cells have not yet begun to spread to other parts of the body.
  • Stage 1. The cancer cells are still small and have only just begun to spread to nearby tissue. Lymph nodes and other body areas remain unaffected.
  • Stage 2. The cancer cells have grown larger and have spread to nearby tissues or lymph nodes.
  • Stage 3. The cancer cells have grown larger still and have advanced significantly into nearby tissues or lymph nodes.
  • Stage 4. The cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body. This stage is often referred to as metastatic cancer because new tumors have begun to grow in other parts of the body.

One of the primary causes of cancer is prolonged exposure to carcinogens like:

  • Radiation
  • Chemicals
  • Drugs
  • Viruses
  • Tobacco
  • Automotive exhaust
  • Toxic emissions from factory smokestacks
  • Asbestos


  • Radiation – High doses of radiation can destroy cancerous cells. It’s important to note that, even with highly focused radiation treatment, normal surrounding tissues are exposed to the radiation and may lead to secondary cancers. With this form of treatment, the cancer either degenerates (radiosensitive) or may not respond at all (radioresistant).
  • Chemotherapy – The purpose of chemotherapy is to kill or stop the development of rapidly dividing cells. It is important to note that this type of therapy is not selective and will destroy all rapidly dividing cells, whether they’re cancerous or not. This is the reason why patients experience hair loss and nausea.
  • Surgery – Surgery can be a complete cure for some types of tumors if they are caught early. Surgery is notably successful in treating skin cancers like malignant melanoma. Most people are prescribed a course of chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy following surgery to make sure all cancer cells have been eradicated.


Perhaps one of the best words a person who has endured surgery and/or countless rounds of radiation or chemotherapy can hear is remission. Remission means that all of the tests, physical exams and scans show that all signs of your cancer are gone.

If you or a loved one is suffering from cancer, the team of experienced physicians at Southeastern Medical Oncology Center is here to help. We’ll meet with you, learn about you and your family’s medical history and work with you to develop a treatment plan that is right for you. We are here to make sure you get the right kind of help you need, fast. Contact us today to get started.

To schedule an appointment, or for more information, call 919-580-0000. You can also schedule an appointment using our easy online appointment request form.