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Cancer staging

Cancer staging is a system developed by doctors to classify the advancement of cancerous diseases for diagnostic purposes. The stages (I,II,III and IV) are based on the extent that cancer has spread (metastasized) beyond its original location. This system is used to communicate the most accurate diagnosis and treatment plans.

Causes

Many factors can cause the development of cancer in the body. Some of these factors, such as heredity (a disease that runs in the family), cannot be avoided. Others, such as lifestyle, can be controlled.

For instance, the use of tobacco is one of the main causes of cancer, especially lung cancer. Tobacco use, whether in the form of smoking, chewing or exposure to second-hand smoke (smoking by others), can also cause cancer of the mouth and larynx, esophagus, throat and many other parts of the body.

Optum offers comprehensive cancer risk assessments and hereditary cancer genetics evaluation programs to help you identify your risk. Click here to start with our online hereditary assessment.

Other primary causes of cancer include:

Diet/nutrition: A poor diet might increase your risk of cancer. For instance, eating large amounts of high-fat foods can contribute to cancer of the colon and prostate.  Excess weight can also be a contributing factor for various types of cancer including breast, uterus, ovary, prostate and colon. A proper diet and exercise is key to minimize your risk.

Environment: Cancer can develop if the person is exposed over a period of time to various chemicals in the environment including pesticides, asbestos and radon.

Exposure to radiation: Too much exposure to the sun (ultraviolet radiation) can cause skin cancer. In addition, over-exposure to X-rays or to radiation therapy (as part of cancer treatment) might be a risk factor for cancer.

Hormone therapy: Women who are going through menopause might receive a prescription for hormone replacement therapy, either estrogen alone or in combination with progesterone. The use of both of these hormones together has been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer. A woman who still has her uterus and is taking estrogen alone (without progesterone) has a greater risk of endometrial cancer.

Common cancer symptoms

  • A sore that doesn’t heal
  • A wart or mole that changes
  • An unusual lump anywhere in the body
  • A persistent cough/hoarseness
  • Indigestion or problems swallowing
  • Changes in bowel movement or urination habits
  • Unusual weight loss
  • Unusual bleeding or discharge from various parts of the body

Diagnosis

If your doctor thinks you might have cancer, they will examine you and might order certain tests, including:

  • Blood and urine tests: to check for imbalances in vitamins and proteins
  • Imaging tests: such as x-rays, computed tomography scans (CT scans), magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) and more
  • Biopsy: a procedure in which the doctor takes a small sample of the tumor and analyzes it

Medical care and help

If you believe you have any of the above cancer symptoms, you should see your healthcare provider as soon as possible. 

To find a cancer specialist near you, visit our providers page.

Contact us if you have any questions.