What is cancer?

Cancer isn't just one disease. There are more than 100 different cancers generally named according to where the cancerous cells began, such as in the breast, lung or bones.

Cancer is the result of abnormal cell growth. When cells behave normally, new cells are formed and grow old and die, making way for new cells again. When the old cells fail to make way for the new cells, and the new cells keep coming, a tumor (also referred to as cancer) may form, or you may "have" cancer because of this cellular abnormality.

Cancer that is localized remains in one place. Cancer that metastasizes spreads to the surrounding tissues (regional) and sometimes to other parts of the body via the blood and lymphatic system (distant).

Diagnosis and testing for cancer

Nowadays there are many types of screenings for early detection of cancer. Mammograms are one way to spot breast cancer before it endangers a woman's health. Transvaginal ultrasounds help detect signs of ovarian cancer for women at risk of the disease. Skin examinations can help identify signs of skin cancer and colonoscopies help use see signs of colorectal cancer. These screenings can help save your life so be sure to ask your doctor what's recommended for your age and gender.

Symptoms of cancer

You may also experience some common symptoms of cancer. Keep in mind these symptoms alone are not cancer indicators and this list is not complete:

  • A lump under the skin or in the breast
  • Abdominal pain
  • Changes in your skin (darkness, yellowing, itching, sores that don't heal)
  • Blood in bowel or urine
  • Feeling weak and tired
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Vaginal bleeding

More often than not, these symptoms are due to some other health issue. However, if you're concerned, talk to your doctor about what's going on.

Stages of cancer and cancer treatment

Cancers are classified in stages, ranging from least to most advanced progression of the disease:

  • Stage 0 is when cancer cells have been detected but have not spread to other areas; there is simply the potential for cancer.
  • Stage I, II, or III is when cancer is present and may or may not have spread to other areas. Generally, the lower the stage number, the smaller the tumor and the less the cancer has spread. The higher the number, the larger the tumor and greater likelihood cancer has spread.
  • Stage IV is when cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Stage IV tends to be the most lethal stage of cancer but cancer at any stage deserves immediate medical attention and treatment.

Depending on the stage and type of cancer you have, common forms of cancer treatment may include:

  • Chemotherapy (medication for killing cancer cells)
  • Clinical trials (access to experimental drugs that may or may not help)
  • Immunotherapy (treatment that helps your body fight cancer on its own)
  • Radiation therapy (such as X-rays that kill cancer cells)
  • Surgery (to remove tumors from your body)

Finding out you have cancer can be scary and overwhelming. At Main Line Health we have a multidisciplinary team that includes top-rated surgical oncologists to help guide you and your family through this challenging time and ensure you get the best care you can possibly receive.



Chemotherapy is used to fight almost every type of cancer and is part of the comprehensive treatment plan created by our oncologists.

Radiation Therapy

Specialists at Main Line Health offer a variety of radiation therapies to help treat cancerous tumors while preserving healthy tissue.

Surgical Oncology


Cancer Care

From diagnosis and throughout treatment, Main Line Health cancer specialists (oncologists) provide compassionate care for you and your loved ones through all stages of cancer treatment.

Genetics and Risk Assessment

Genetic evaluation is becoming an important part of personalized care, as many health conditions have a genetic basis and genetic test results can help to guide medical decisions. Our genetic counselors provide consultations related to cancer genetics, cardiovascular genetics and prenatal genetics.

Palliative Care

Palliative care at Main Line Health is a service offered to seriously ill hospitalized patients. At the request of the patient's physician, the palliative care team recommends pain and symptom management.