Cancer Information & Treatments

What is Cancer?

Cancer is a group of more than 100 different diseases. Cancer occurs when cells become abnormal and keep dividing and forming more cells, without the usual control or order of the body. All organs of the body are made up of cell. Normally, cells divide to produce more cells only when the body needs them, such as to repair damage or replace old cells which have died. This orderly process helps to keep us healthy.

If cells keep dividing when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms. This mass of extra tissue, called a growth or tumor, can be either benign or malignant.

Benign tumors are not cancer. They can usually be removed and, in most cases, they do not grow back. Most important, cells from benign tumors do not invade and spread to other parts of the body. Benign tumors are rarely life-threatening.

Malignant tumors are cancer. Cancer cell can invade other tissues and damage nearby tissues and organs. Also, cancer cells can break away from a malignant tumor and spread to other organs by way of the lymphatic system or bloodstream. The spread of cancer cells to other organs is called metastasis.

Most cancers are named for the type of cell or organ in which they begin. When cancer spreads, the new tumor has the same kind of abnormal cells and the same name as the primary tumor. For example, if lung cancer spreads to the liver, the cancer cells in the liver are still lung cancer cells (not liver cancer). The disease is called metastatic lung cancer.


What Causes Cancer to Form?

Cancer develops gradually as a result of injury to cells, from a complex mix of factors related to the environment, lifestyle, and genetics (inherited traits). Scientists have identified many risk factors that increase the chances of developing cancer. They estimate that about 80 percent of all cancers are related to the use of tobacco products (smoking and smokeless types), to what we eat and drink, and, to a lesser extent, to exposure to radiation and cancer-causing chemicals (carcinogens) in the environment and the workplace. Some people are more sensitive to these factors than others

Additional general information about cancer and its causes can be obtained by contacting the National Cancer Institute (1-800-4CANCER), the American Cancer Society, and the Leukemia Society of America.

Cancer Treatments


Surgery is local treatment to remove a tumor or growth. Tissue around the tumor and nearby lymph nodes may also be removed at the time of surgery, to assess the extent of spread of the tumor and to remove as much abnormal tissue as possible, while trying to preserve a large portion of the healthy tissues.


Chemotherapy involves the administration of special drugs to kill cancer cells. These drugs work by stopping the growth of cancer cells at one or more points their life cycle. Chemotherapy, in general, is considered systemic therapy, since the drugs flow through the bloodstream to the entire body. These drugs can be given by mouth (orally), or, in most cases, directly into the bloodstream through a vein (intravenously). Occasionally, chemotherapy can be directed into a particular fluid or body cavity, to localize the treatment for a specific type of cancer.

Radiation Therapy

This is also called radiotherapy, and utilizes high-energy beams to damage cancer cells and stop them from growing. Like surgery, radiation is a local therapy – it can only affect cancer cells in a treated area. Radiation can be delivered from a machine (external beam radiation), or from implantation of a radioactive material, placed directly into or near the tumor. Some patients receive both kinds of radiation. Your Columbus Oncology & Hematology doctor works closely with a physician specially trained in the delivery of radiation therapy for cancer (Radiation Oncologist) to ensure that you receive appropriate care.

Medical oncologists (the doctors at Columbus Oncology and Hematology Associates) specialize in the treatment of many different cancers. Your COHA doctor will discuss with you an ideal treatment plan tailored to you as an individual. These treatments may consist of chemotherapy, surgery, radiation therapy, or a combination of these treatments. Your doctor may also discuss participation in a clinical research trial, looking at new cancer therapies and supportive care for the patient with cancer. At Columbus Oncology & Hematology Associates, chemotherapy is administered by specially trained nurses, under the direct supervision of one of our physicians (who is always available in the office). Columbus Oncology & Hematology Associates is capable of accommodating a variety of chemotherapy schedules and complex treatments in a comfortable patient setting.

When patients receive chemotherapy, the anti-cancer drugs may effect the bone marrow, decreasing the ability to produce normal blood cells. The white blood cells (leukocytes) produced in the bone marrow help to protect your body from infections. If the number of white blood cells are reduced, there is a greater risk of getting an infection. Your Columbus Oncology & Hematology Associates’ doctor will discuss with you about the potential side effects of your treatment, and what signs to look for.

Signs of Infection:

Even if you are cautious, it is still possible to get an infection. The following symptoms are associated with an infection:

  • a fever (temperature over 101 degrees F)
  • chills * sweating, especially at night
  • a burning sensation when urinating
  • a severe cough or sore throat

If any of these symptoms of infection appear, report them immediately to your doctor or nurse. Do not use aspirin or acetaminophen to reduce the fever, unless you first check with your doctor or nurse. Any unusual bleeding, bruising, persistent nausea or diarrhea should be reported to your doctor or nurse. While you are receiving chemotherapy, check with your doctor or nurse prior to having any dental work performed.


Cancer Clinical Trials

Clinical trials, also called research studies, test new therapies in people with cancer. The goal of this research is to find better ways to treat cancer and help cancer patients. Clinical trials test many types of treatment, such as new drugs, new approaches to surgery or radiation therapy, new combinations of treatment (including supportive therapies, such as antibiotics or pain medication), or new methods of treatment (such as gene therapy).

A clinical trial is one of the final stages of a long and careful research process. The search for new treatments begins in the laboratory where scientists first develop and test new ideas. If an approach seems promising, the next step may be testing in animals, to see how it may affect cancer in a living being and to study for any harmful effects. Of course, treatments that work well in the laboratory do not always work well in people. Studies that look promising need to be tested in humans to determine if indeed they are effective and safe. Once a new treatment has been shown to be safe and effective, it needs to be compared to an existing standard therapy to determine if the new treatment is safer or more effective.

In the past, clinical trials were sometimes seen as a last resort for people who had no other options for therapy. Today, many patients with common cancers choose to receive their first treatment in a clinical trial. At Columbus Oncology and Hematology Associates, we participate in clinical trials sponsored by national research groups, pharmaceutical companies, and by local physicians, through our affiliations with Columbus CCOP (our local research group funded by the National Cancer Institute), OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital, and Ohio State University. More information about clinical trials can be obtained by calling National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Information Service (1-800-4CANCER) or OhioHealth Cancer Call (566-4321 or toll-free in Ohio, 1-800-752-9119).