What is cancer?

The word cancer actually refers to many diseases, not one. In fact, there are more than 100 types of diseases known collectively as cancer. What they all have in common is the overgrowth of cells, tiny units that make up all living things. Cancer (also known as malignancy, pronounced: muh-lig-nun-see) occurs when cells begin to grow and multiply in an uncontrolled way.

Normal body cells grow and divide over a period of time until they eventually die. But cancer cells continue to grow and divide and grow and divide. Eventually, they gather to form tumors. Tumors (pronounced: too-murz) are lumps that can interfere with the body’s normal processes. Sometimes cells from a tumor break away and travel to a different tissue or organ. This is called metastasis (pronounced: muh-tas-tuh-sus).

As scary as all this sounds, most cancers can be treated and controlled and many people with cancer get better and lead normal lives.

Why did I get cancer?

Ugh. No one really knows why cancer grows in certain people. Most people don’t usually associate cancer with teens. Cancer is more common in adults, so it’s likely that you know someone who has had it, such as an older relative or someone in a friend’s family. But teens can get some types of cancer, too.

Scientists and researchers are working to discover why some people get cancer and others do not. This will help them to learn whether cancer can be prevented.

Doctors do have some ideas about why people may get cancer, though. The main reasons are genetics and certain environmental or behavioral triggers.

The tendency to develop some types of cancer is believed to be inherited — that is, the genes you were born with might carry a predisposition for cancer. For example, if a close relative has had cancer of the breast or the colon, you may be more likely to inherit the tendency to develop those cancers, even though you may never actually get them.

Some behavioral and environmental triggers can cause changes in the body’s cells that push them into a cancerous state. For example, cigarettes are known to increase the risk of lung cancer. Too much exposure to the sun can increase the risk of skin cancer. These types of triggers act on the body slowly over time, so the cancers that may result from them don’t show up until a person is an adult. That’s one reason why teens don’t get the same types of cancers as adults do.

Doctors do know for sure that cancer itself is not contagious, so you don’t have to worry about catching it from someone else or spreading it to another person (although people with certain infectious diseases such as AIDS or hepatitis are more vulnerable to certain cancers).

Cancer is also never a person’s fault. It’s simply not true that a person may have done something wrong to get the disease.

Learn more about cancer and how it’s treated at the Hyundai Cancer Institute website.

Can I smoke pot while I get cancer treatment?

Well, it’s complicated.  By federal law, possessing cannabis (marijuana) is illegal in the United States. And getting any drug off the street is a bad idea—since you are basically putting something dangerous into your body that could change how well your cancer treatment works.

So the short answer is no.

But if you are interested in finding ways to deal with symptoms like nausea or loss of appetite, there are some safe and effective medications that might just do the trick.

Also, medicines called cannabinoids work by affecting the area of the brain that controls nausea, vomiting, and appetite. Cannabinoids are used to treat nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy in people who have already taken other medications to treat this type of nausea and vomiting without good results.

Talk to your doctor and figure out what is going to work best.

Here’s more information about medical cannibis and cannabinoid use if you want to read up.

The laws in your state may be different if you are over the age of 18. For more about the Medical Marijuana Program in California, click here.

How do I quit smoking?

Making the choice to quit smoking is the best decision you can make in taking control of your health and fighting cancer.  It’s not always easy, but you can make it easier on yourself if you always keep in mind the importance of what you are doing. Your body needs to be as strong as possible to fight cancer and it will become stronger as soon as you quit.

Here’s a checklist of things you can do to help put the smoking habit behind you:

  • Consider joining a stop-smoking group. Ask if your school has one or contact your local American Lung Association for stop smoking materials.
  • Choose a quit date and stick to it.
  • Find someone you trust to help you through
  • Ditch all of your “smoking stuff” by getting rid of all of the things you associate with smoking and be sure to tell everyone you are doing it.
  • Make a list of reasons of why it’s important for you to quit and keep the list where you can look at it often—up in your room, in your wallet, etc.
  • Drinks lots of water and eat healthy foods. Both of these will make you feel better while you’re kicking the habit.
  • Think about what you will do when you have an urge or craving to smoke ahead of time. Knowing how you will distract yourself will make it easier.
  • Keep in mind that if you slip, you have not failed.

In some cases, smokers benefit from nicotine replacement products to help break their smoking habit. These products continue to give smokers nicotine to meet their nicotine craving. The benefit of nicotine replacement products is the elimination of tars and poisonous gases that cigarettes emit. Because of your cancer, you should never start using one of these products without permission from your oncologist. Some examples of nicotine replacement products include:

  • nicotine chewing gum – an over-the-counter chewing gum that releases small amounts of nicotine to help reduce nicotine withdrawal symptoms.
  • nicotine patch – an over-the-counter patch applied to the upper body once a day that releases a steady dosage of nicotine to help reduce the urge to smoke.
  • nicotine inhaler or nasal spray – a prescription nicotine replacement product that releases nicotine to help reduce withdrawal symptoms (requires a physician’s approval before use).

Zyban is a non-nicotine alternative to help people stop smoking. Offered in pill form to smokers who want to quit, Zyban (Bupropion HCI), has been shown to alter mood transmitters in the brain that are linked to addiction. Zyban must be prescribed by a physician and may not be appropriate for everyone. Your onologist can tell you if Zyban is a good fit for you and your condition.

Talk to your doctor and we’ll help you quit and stick to it.

In the meantime, check out www.teenquit.com.

How does smoking make things worse if I have cancer?

While you have cancer, your body is fighting to get well and smoking makes that fight much more difficult. Smoking reduces the amount of oxygen that reaches your body’s tissues, contributes to higher blood pressure, increases the risk of forming a blood clot, damages your blood vessels, and greatly increases the risk of a stroke.

I’m a smoker. Can I keep smoking?

If you are a teen smoker, you aren’t alone. According to the American Cancer Society, 90 percent of new smokers are children and teenagers. It’s not a secret that smoking is a dangerous habit for both the smoker and those around the smoker.

But now that you have cancer, smoking is going to make your fight against cancer much, much harder. According to the National Cancer Institute, studies have found that those who quit smoking are more likely to recover from their cancer than those who don’t. Continuing to smoke can mess up how well your treatment works, and can also intensify the gross side effects of treatment.

If I already have cancer, why does it matter if I smoke?

Whether your cancer is related to smoking or not, if you continue smoking you have an increased risk of developing a second cancer at the same or another site in your body. If you require a surgery as part of your cancer treatment, it is important to know that smokers are more likely than nonsmokers to have complications after surgical procedures.

Wanna quit? Talk to your doctor or nurse. We can help you! Need a little motivation to quit smoking? Check out the Gallery of Gore at http://teenquit.com/gallery/index.asp teenquit.com. http://teenquit.com/index2.asp


What if I smoke when I am stressed out?

Finding out that you have cancer can be scary. You probably feel confused, stressed and overwhelmed with questions. The emotional and physical stress that you experience may cause you to want to pick up a cigarette – either for the first time or as a continued habit.

This is understandable, but it’s important that you keep your body as healthy as possible during this time.  It’s understandable for you to have questions about smoking and cancer; below are some of the most common questions we get from our teen and young adult patients.

Is it safe to exercise?

Problems can happen when you push it too hard—so you want to make sure you are staying within the limits of what your body can handle right now.

If you are getting any kind of cancer treatment, or have in the past, you need to talk to your doctor to figure out an exercise plan that is safe and fun for you.


• If your blood counts are low and you are at risk for infection, anemia or bleeding. • If the minerals in your blood, such as sodium and potassium, are not normal (this is likely to be the case if you have been vomiting or having diarrhea).

• If you are taking treatments that affect your lungs or heart, or are at risk for lung or heart disease. Instead, consult your physician first, then watch for swollen ankles, sudden weight gain, or shortness of breath.

• If you have unrelieved pain, nausea, vomiting, or other health concerns. Always consult your physician before beginning any exercise program.

Tips for Working Out

• Do not work too hard if you are taking blood pressure medication that controls your heart rate.

• Do not hold your breath, as this may put a strain on your heart.

• Do not exercise on uneven surfaces that could cause you to fall.

• If you have bone disease, poor vision, poor balance, or weakness, do not use heavy weights or perform excessive weight bearing exercises.

• Watch for signs of internal or external bleeding if you are taking blood thinners.

• If you have swelling, pain, dizziness, or blurred vision, discontinue all exercise and call your physician immediately.


What’s the best way to get back into exercising if it’s been a long time?

If it has been a long time since you’ve exercised and feel like your energy level is really low, it’s good for you to get moving, even if it’s just 30 minutes a day. Remember to take it easy.

If you are getting any kind of cancer treatment, or have in the past, you need to talk to your doctor to figure out an exercise plan that is safe and fun for you.

But here are some easy, low-impact activities to try:

• pleasure walking

• climbing stairs

• dancing

• home exercise

• playing video games that get you up out of a chair onto your feet with Wii or Xbox Kinect

If you are getting any kind of cancer treatment, or have in the past, you need to talk to your doctor to figure out an exercise plan that is safe and fun for you.

What exercise program is right for me?

It depends on your treatment and how you are feeling. You can work out at home, with a CHOC physical therapist or a personal trainer.

You can make the program fit your needs by changing any of three factors: frequency, intensity, or time.

It’s best to start with low-intensity, short-duration activities three days a week. As your body adjusts and gets stronger, you can gradually work a little harder and a little longer at each session. A typical program might have you do aerobic and strengthening exercise on alternate days. You might start with five- to 10-minute sessions and work up to as much as 40 minutes over 15 weeks.

Strengthening exercises will keep your muscles strong so you can perform daily chores with greater ease. Walking and other aerobic activities will increase your endurance. It may take weeks or months for some people to regain their energy. Once chemotherapy is finished, though, normal cells recover. The side effects, including fatigue, ease.

Exercise can help you take charge of your body. You can take responsibility for getting well and feeling better through regular participation. Being active, rather than passive, in the process of recovery will give you strength, courage, and confidence as your treatment continues.

If you are getting any kind of cancer treatment, or have in the past, you need to talk to your doctor to figure out an exercise plan that is safe and fun for you.