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FAQ Metastatic

What is Metastatic Cancer?

What is Metastatic Cancer?

When receiving a cancer diagnosis your doctor can often use highly technical terms to describe your cancer. While doctors and people in the cancer community are often familiar with these technical terms, an individual with a new diagnosis may not understand the prognosis. One of the terms that are used to describe a more serious form of cancer is “metastases”. What is metastatic cancer?

Metastatic cancer is cancer that has spread from the primary site (the part of the body where cancer started) to other parts of the body. The cancerous cells migrate from one part of the body to another through the bloodstream or the lymph system. 

In this article, we will dive deeper into what metastatic cancer is and how its spreads throughout the body. Additionally, we will take a look at some of the most commonly asked questions about metastatic cancer including which common sites, symptoms, and treatments for metastatic cancer.

How Does Metastatic Cancer Spread?

It takes a lot for a cancer cell to spread to another part of the body. As we mentioned earlier there are two means of transportation for cancer cells:

  • The bloodstream
  • The lymph symptom (a network of tissues, vessels, and organs that carries watery fluid 

However, it takes a lot more than a means of transportation for metastatic cancer to spread. In fact, in order to spread to a new part of the body a cancer cell must:

  • Breakaway from the original tumor and enter the bloodstream or lymph system 
  • Attach to the wall of a blood or lymph vessel and move to a new body part
  • Continue to grow and thrive in the new location
  • Avoid attacks from the body’s immune system during this process

It’s important to note that metastatic cancer can also result from growth into tissue directly surrounding the original tumor. However, when this occurs the cancer is typically more localized, especially if it is caught early.

What Are Common Sites that Metastatic Cancer Spreads?

Cancer has the capability to spready to any part of the body. Generally, cancer cells are most likely to spread to the bones, lungs, and liver. However, certain types of cancers tend to spread to specific parts of the body. For example:

  • Breast Cancer – Typically spreads to the liver, bones, brain, lungs, and chest wall.
  • Lung Cancer – Typically spreads to the adrenal glands, liver, bones, and brain.
  • Prostate Cancer – Typically spreads to the bones.
  • Colon Cancer – Typically spreads to the liver and the lungs.

Occasionally cancer can spread to the skin, muscles, or other organs, but this is much less frequent. As a general rule, cancer tends to spread “downstream” from the primary cancer site.

Are Certain Types of Cancer More Likely to be Metastatic?

Unfortunately, any type of cancer can metastasize. Certain factors that increase the potential for the spreading of cancer cells include:

  • The type of cancer (breast, prostate, kidney, melanoma, ovarian, and thyroid cancer are most likely to develop bone metastasis according to the American Cancer Society)
  • The speed of cancer growth
  • Other factorial behaviors identified by your doctor

Much more research is needed on how different types of cancer metastasize, which is why it’s important to have regular check-ins with your doctor

How is Metastatic Cancer Diagnosed?

The monitoring and diagnosis of metastatic cancer involve a wide array of tests. Your doctor may perform one of the following tests depending on your symptoms.

Blood Tests

Certain types of blood tests can indicate if the cancer is active or progressing after the initial diagnosis. Increasing levels of the below tests may indicate that you have metastatic cancer:

  • CEA (carcinoembryonic antigen) – Colon cancer
  • CA-125 – Ovarian cancer
  • PSA (prostate specific antigen) – Prostate cancer
  • AFP (alpha-feto-protein) – Testicular cancer
  • HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) – Testicular cancer

If you have elevated liver enzymes during a routine blood test it may indicate that you have liver metastasis. However, these tests often come back normal even in those with advanced forms of cancer.

Imaging

Depending on the type of cancer you have, your doctor may also order imaging to verify or identify the spread of cancer. Some commonly ordered images include:

  • Ultrasound – helpful in identifying cancer in the abdomen or liver.
  • CT Scan – used to identify masses within lymph nodes, lungs, and the liver.
  • Bone Scan – useful in identifying if cancer has spread to the bones.
  • MRI – helps to identify bone metastasis in the spine or brain metastasis.
  • PET scans – cancer cells can often fall into the category of hypermetabolic.

While these tests are useful in helping your care team understand what is going on in your body, they are not always definitive. In some circumstances, your doctor may need to complete a biopsy to confirm the presence of metastatic cancer.

“They ran a lot of tests and found that there were going to be some things that needed to be done that weren’t standard, so they scheduled some appointments for her to gets CT scans and all the other scans.”

Read More about Willie’s wife’s struggle with metastatic thyroid cancer.

What are the Symptoms of Metastatic Cancer?

Individuals with metastatic cancer don’t always experience symptoms. However, you may experience any of the following symptoms depending on where cancer has spread:

  • Headache or dizziness
  • Loss of energy
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Pain in the infected area of the body
  • Jaundice

Symptoms can be an effective way to identify where cancer has spread. For example, if you experiencing jaundice, it’s a key indicator that cancer has spread to your liver. Therefore, it’s essential, to be honest, and share your symptoms with your doctor.

How is Metastatic Cancer Treated?

Your doctor may recommend several different treatment plans depending on the progression and type of cancer. 

If your cancer is localized to one part of your body, your doctor may suggest local therapy or treatment of just the cancerous area. Most often this includes surgery to remove the tumor or radiation therapy.

If your cancer has spread past a localized area your doctor may suggest systemic therapy or treatment of the entire body. This often includes the use of chemotherapy and the use of various medications.

How Can I Prevent Cancer from Metastasizing?

Currently, there are no reliable ways to prevent cancer from metastasizing. The most effective defense that we have against metastatic cancer is early detection.

It is crucial to complete a cancer screening as early as possible. You know your body best. Therefore, if you have cancer symptoms it’s better to be safe and get screened than wait until the issue gets worse.

Is Metastatic Cancer the Same Type of Cancer Once it Spreads?

You may be wondering if metastatic cancer gets a different name once it spreads to other regions of the body. The cancer type remains the same; however, the word metastatic is added to the classification of your cancer.

For example, if you are diagnosed with breast cancer and it manages to spread to the lungs it does not become lung cancer and breast cancer. Instead, it becomes metastatic breast cancer.

“He said he needed to do some testing. He needed to biopsy the lung tumor. That would tell him for certain that that was breast cancer that had spread to my lung rather than lung cancer.”

Learn more about Erin C’s struggle with metastatic breast cancer.

How is Metastatic Cancer Different from Advanced Cancer?

You will sometimes hear the word advanced cancer and metastatic cancer used interchangeably. However, they don’t always mean the same thing.

Advanced cancer is usually used to describe cancer that cannot be cured. In these instances, your doctor will focus on treating your symptoms and prolonging your life rather than aggressively attacking cancer itself. 

Metastatic cancer is not always advanced. For example, according to the American Cancer Society, distant testicular cancer has a five-year survival rate of 73%, while regional testicular cancer has a five-year survival rate of 96%.

To put this into perspective, almost 3 out of 4 men with distant metastatic testicular cancer live at least five years past their initial diagnosis. In this case, metastatic testicular cancer would not qualify as advanced cancer.

The healthcare establishment doesn’t like to use the word “cured” because there is no cure for metastatic cancer. But I’m not a medical doctor, I can say whatever I want. I want to say I’m cured, because I haven’t had any evidence of disease since 2011.  If I have it now, it’ll probably be a second cancer.

Read More about Lee’s journey with Metastatic Colon Cancer

Where Can I Learn More About Cancer Symptoms and Treatments?

If you are looking to learn more about the symptoms and treatments for your specific type of cancer head over to our FAQ page.

Additionally, if you are looking for stories of people who had the same type of cancer as you, check out our ever-growing list of cancer stories.

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FAQ Finances

What Benefits are Available for Cancer Patients?

What Benefits are Available for Cancer Patients?

Cancer treatment in the United States healthcare system can be extremely expensive. Depending on your treatment plan and the severity of your cancer, you may need to cut back hours at work and possibly take a brief leave of absence. In times like these, both the federal and state government offer financial assistance to help with your treatment. So what type of benefits are cancer patients entitled to?

Typically, patients who are diagnosed with cancer have access to one of the following government programs:

  • Social Security Disability Income (SSDI)
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Medicare
  • Medicaid

In this article, we will cover each program in depth including how to tell if you qualify, what will be covered, and how to apply. Additionally, we will provide you with resources if you need non-federal or non-state funds for your cancer treatment.

What is Social Security Disability Income (SSDI)?

SSDI is a social security program that will pay income to individuals who are unable to work due to a disability. In some instances, SSDI will also pay certain family members who are affected by the disability.

The program typically covers individuals who are unable to work as a result of a disability for a year or more. SSDI will also cover certain expenses and healthcare as you transition back to work.

How Do I Qualify for SSDI?

Unfortunately, SSDI has very stringent restrictions on who qualifies for financial aid. In order to qualify for SSDI you must:

  • Worked in a job covered by Social Security for “long enough”
  • Meet Social Security’s strict definition of disability

While to qualifications for SSDI provided by the Social Security Administration (SSA) may seem vague, they do provide detailed information of each qualifying factor on their website. However, to save you time we’ve summarized the requirements for the qualifications below.

How Much Work Do You Need to Qualify for SSDI?

The Social Security Administration determines if you’ve worked long enough to qualify for SSDI based on two factors:

  • Total yearly wages or self-employment income
  • Length of time working in a job covered by Social Security

The SSA assigns you credits based on how much you earn in a given year. They assign a value for one credit and you have the potential to earn up to four credits per year. 

The value of a credit varies yearly; however, in 2022 you need to make $1,510 for one credit and $6,040 for all four credits. 

Additionally, you generally need 40 credits to qualify for SSDI with at least 20 of those being earned in the last 10 years. However, there are sometimes exceptions for younger individuals.

If you are interested in learning more about how to earn credits you can look over the SSA’s guide on how to do so.

How Much Money Can I Expect to get on SSDI?

SSDI is paid on a monthly basis. As of 2021, the average monthly benefit was $1,128 and the maximum benefit was $3,148.

“I educate people about how insurance policies generally work and refer them to help them understand exactly what their plan will cover.”

Read more about how Lia A. helps cancer patients with their finances after being diagnosed.

What is Supplemental Security Income?

Social Security Income (SSI) provides basic financial assistant to older adults and those with disabilities who have very limited income. SSI is typically supplemented by state benefits, in addition to federal assistance.

How Do I Qualify for Social Security Income?

The two qualifying factors for SSI are:

  • Meeting the SSA’s strict definition of a disability or being over the age of 65
  • Having limited income and assets

You have to meet the SSA’s definition of having “limited” income and assets to qualify for SSI. Individuals have to have less than $2,000 in assets and couples must have less than $3,000.

Additionally, you have to be at or below the federal benefit rate (FBR) in terms of income. In 202, the FBR was $794 for individuals and $1,191 for couples. However, not all income counts when the SSA calculates your income.

What Counts as Income Under SSI?

Social Security has a large list of items that do not count towards your income when assessing if you qualify for SSI. The list of items can be found on their website along with more information on how they calculate your income.

How Much Money Can I Expect to Get on SSI?

The average monthly benefit under SSI is $577 per month. The maximum in 2021 was $791 for an individual and $1,191 for a married couple.

“I was able to apply for disability because acute leukemia is one of those conditions with compassionate allowances within social security, so I started getting money from that in month four or five.”

Read more about Christine’s experience with the SSA

How are Social Security Disability Income and Social Security Income Different?

SSDI and SSI differ in two major ways: the amount of money that is paid to the recipient monthly and the determination for receiving the benefits. 

SSDI pays recipients a lot more on a monthly basis than SSI. This is in part because SSI is supposed to be complemented by state benefits.

Additionally, the determination for receiving SSDI benefits is based on the length of time worked, while SSI is based on income and resources. Therefore, SSDI benefits those who have been in the workforce for an extended period of time, while SSI is meant to help low-income individuals.

However, unless you are over the age of 65, both benefits require you to meet the SSA’s definition of disability.

How Does Social Security Define Disability?

Social Security has a three-part definition for disability in its SSI and SSDI programs:

  • You are unable to work and engage in a substantial gainful activity because of your medical condition.
  • You cannot do work that you previously did or adjust to other work because of your medical condition.
  • Your condition has lasted or is expected to last longer than a year or result in death. 

It’s important to note that SSDI does not cover partial or short-term disability.

What is a Qualifying Disability Under SSDI and SSI?

Even if you meet the definition for disability, you do not automatically qualify for SSDI or SSI. You need to have what the SSA refers to as a “qualifying disability.” 

To have to be considered a qualifying disability you must meet the following five criteria:

  • You cannot be working
  • Your condition must be considered severe
  • Your disability must be on the list of disabling medical conditions
  • You cannot be able to do the work that you previously did
  • You cannot do any other type of work

Which Forms of Cancer Qualify for SSDI and SSI?

The SSA does consider some forms of cancer to be a qualifying disability especially particularly disabling or hard-to-treat cancers. These include:

  • Any small-cell cancers
  • Brain cancer of all types
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Gallbladder cancer
  • Inflammatory types of breast cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Salivary gland cancer
  • Sino-nasal cancer
  • Non-small-cell cancers that survive three months of chemo or spread to other organs

Even if your cancer is not on this list, the SSA may still consider it a qualifying disability.

How Do I Apply for SSDI and SSI?

You can apply for SSDI and SSI at a Social Security office or on the SSA’s website.

It’s important to note that several people don’t receive and approval for SSDI on their first application. If the rejection was due to a clerical error you have the opportunity to reapply. Alternatively, you can also submit an appeal if your application was denied for some other reason.

“It was a lot of internalized emotions and stress. To be away from there was just a relief. I felt better the day the doctor said you can be off work. I felt amazing that day, you know what I mean?”

Read more about how Maurissa was able to take time off from work because of her benefits.

How Can Medicare and Medicaid Help with My Medical Expenses?

While SSDI and SSI can help provide supplemental income if you end up needing to leave your job due to cancer you still have to find a way to cover your medical expenses. Medicare and Medicaid can help cover a large portion of those expenses if you end up losing your healthcare benefits from your employer.

What is the Difference Between Medicare and Medicaid?

Medicaid and Medicare are intended for different people just like SSDI and SSI.

Medicaid is for low-income individuals. It is primarily funded by the state, so requirements and benefits will vary from state to state. However, in most states, if you qualify for Medicaid the majority of your medical expenses will be covered.

To learn more about how Medicaid may be able to help you cover your medical expenses read our article about Medicaid coverage.

Most people associate Medicare with individuals over the age of 65. However, Medicare is also available to anyone who has a qualifying disability and is sponsored by the Federal Government. Medicare is fairly similar to your work insurance. You pay a monthly premium and pay for certain costs until you hit a deductible. After that, Medicare helps with the bill.

It’s important to note that Original Medicare (Part A & B) only covers the bare minimum and cancer patients will often need to purchase additional insurance. Government-approved private insurance companies offer Medicare Advantage (Part C), which will allow you to choose additional coverage that meets your needs. 

To learn more about how Medicare can help cover your medical expenses read out article on Medicare and cancer coverage.

How Do I Apply for Medicare and Medicaid?

You can apply for Medicare online here. You also have the option to visit a local SSA office or call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213.

The application process for Medicaid varies by state. Your state government should have a website dedicated to information about the application process.

How Do Identify the Different Type of Benefits for Cancer Patients?

While we have covered four of the most commonly used benefits for individuals with cancer, you may qualify for several other benefits based on a multitude of factors. 

The SSA has a questionnaire dedicated to helping you determine which benefits you qualify for. It asses your eligibility for over 1,000 federal and state-sponsored benefits.

What If I Don’t Qualify for Federal or State Benefits?

If you don’t qualify for state or local benefits to help cover the costs of your cancer treatment or cost of living don’t fret! Several organizations can assist you with your finances. Some of these include:

This only begins to scratch the surface of the organizations dedicated to helping assist cancer patients with the financial burden of cancer treatment. 

What if I Have Other Questions About Cancer and Finances?

A cancer diagnosis can be a scary and stressful time in anyone’s life. The last thing you want to stress about is the financial burden of the treatment and medications needed to help you fight the disease.

If you have more questions about cancer and finances or just cancer in general, visit our FAQ page.

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FAQ Lung Cancer

Biomarker Testing

Biomarker Testing

You may have heard your care team mention the possibility of biomarker testing when trying to develop a plan of action for diagnosis or a potential diagnosis of cancer. While biomarker testing has been around since the 1950s, it’s not a term you come across often if you aren’t in the medical field. 

Biomarker testing is an effective tool for doctors to help identify targeted therapies for driver mutations or issues with the immune system for cancer patients. 

In this article, we will help you better understand what biomarker testing is and answer any questions that you may have about biomarker testing. This way you can make an informed decision about what is best for you and your body. 

What is Biomarker Testing?

Biomarker testing, also known as molecular or genomic testing, is the use of a laboratory test to measure biomarkers found in your bodily fluids or tissue. A biomarker is a biological molecule found in any bodily fluid that may indicate a sign of abnormality as in a disease or a condition. 

Doctors are able to use the tissue of a tumor to test for abnormalities in its DNA and levels of specific proteins in the tumor in order to identify what is causing the tumor to grow. In turn, they can then apply targeted therapy that will help remove the cancerous cells without damaging healthy cells. 

Why is Biomarker Testing Useful for Cancer Patients?

Biomarker testing is a great tool for cancer patients because it allows your care team to diagnose the type of cancer. This in turn can help your doctor determine the best treatment plan.

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), biomarker testing can also be used to identify genes the may lead to cancer or see how your treatment plan is progressing. 

“It’s helped us on three different occasions not only with diagnosis, but on each time that he had progression of his cancer, the liquid biopsy was able to say, here’s the mutation, here’s the new mutation, and here’s the direction the clear plot path that you need to take for survival.”

Read more about Rhonda’s success with Biomarkers

When Should I Consider Biomarker Testing?

The National Institutes of Health recommends biomarker testing for all patients with non-small cell lung cancer. Biomarker testing can also be useful for several other types of cancer including melanoma and breast cancer.

Three key times you should consider asking your doctor about biomarker testing are:

  • When your doctor suspects cancer and you are getting a biopsy done.
  • If you have been diagnosed with cancer but did not get biomarker testing done.
  • If lung cancer reoccurs after treatment

Essentially, if you are diagnosed with lung cancer you should discuss the potential for biomarker testing with your doctor.

“I wish I had actually asked for the full biomarker testing to see what their report was and ask questions about it. Cancer runs in my family, but I had done genetic testing. I didn’t understand this was different testing.”

Read More about Terri’s lung cancer story

Which Types of Biomarker Testing Should I Be Asking For?

There are two types of biomarker testing that should be done if you’ve been diagnosed with or your doctor suspects lung cancer:

  • Driver Mutations – an error in a gene’s DNA
  • Expression of PD-L1 – an immunotherapy biomarker

Let’s dive further into the two types of biomarker testing to understand what they indicate and how they impact your treatment plan.

Driver Mutations

In order to understand driver mutations, it’s important to understand the basics of how genes and DNA work. 

DNA makes up genes. When everything is working normally each gene has its proper DNA code which then results in the production of proteins. 

mutation occurs when a gene has an error in its DNA. Mutations are normal and happen often. A single mutation likely won’t cause cancer; however, the accumulation of multiple mutations over time is what typically results in cancer. 

Mutations are often sorted into two general categories:

  • Somatic (acquired) – The mutation is limited to just the tumor and is not passed to offspring.
  • Germline (inherited) – The mutation is present in all cells of the body and can be passed to offspring. 

There are several different types of driver mutations that can result in cancer. Some of the most common ones include:

  • Activating Mutation – The protein is always active.
  • Fusion – The fusion of one gene with another.
  • Amplification – More copies of a gene than normal.
  • Deletion – Part of or the entire gene is missing. 

Research has so far found 20 different driver mutations commonly found in non-small cell lung cancer treatment and small cell lung cancer treatment. Much more research is needed to continue identifying the potential mutations and develop targeted therapies. 

Expression of Programmed Death Ligand 1 (PD-L1)

The testing of your PD-L1 levels is what helps identify if you need immunotherapy. According to the National Library of Medicine, a PD-L1 test helps measure the amount of PD-L1 on cancer cells. 

This is important because PD-L1 proteins are what prevent your T-cells, otherwise known as immune cells, from attacking the cancer cells. Essentially, the abnormal cancer cells are hiding behind the PD-L1 proteins to stop your body from doing its job.

To learn more about immunotherapy visit our FAQ page.

“If you catch a patient stage one, you can have a greater than 90% chance of curing that patient from lung cancer. So that’s what it’s all about.”

– Dr. Michael Gieske

Read more about Dr. Gieske’s fight for early lung cancer screening.

Are There Different Types of Biomarker Testing?

Yes, there are several different biomarker tests that can be done. The type of biomarkers and test that is performed depends on the type of cancer that you may have. 

Some common tests include:

  • Single Biomarker Test – Only looking for one single biomarker.
  • Multigene Test – Looking at a panel of several different biomarkers.
  • Whole-Exome Sequencing – Looking at all of the genes in your cancer.
  • Whole-Genome Sequencing – Looking at all of the DNA in your cancer.
  • Tumor Mutational Burden Testing – Looking at genetic changes in your cancer to determine if you need immunotherapy.
  • Liquid Biopsies – Assessing blood or other bodily fluids for biomarkers.

The type of biomarker that is run depends on your cancer type and what your doctor is trying to learn from the test. 

How is Biomarker Testing Done?

An important part of deciding if biomarker testing is right for you may be how the actual test is performed. The test can be done in one of three ways depending on the type of biomarkers that are being tested for:

  • If you are having surgery, the surgeon can take a sample of your tumor during the operation.
  • They may need to take a biopsy of your tumor if you aren’t having surgery.
  • Some biomarker tests can be completed using just a blood draw.

In some instances, you may need to get an additional biopsy done if the cancer is reoccurring, or they didn’t get enough tissue to complete the test.

What Will My Biomarker Test Reveal?

The results of your biomarker test may help identify the best course of treatment by indicating what type of mutation is causing your cancer or if you are a candidate for immunotherapy. If there is an FDA-approved drug to treat your results you may be able to avoid chemotherapy or even potentially surgery.

“Research is going to biomarker testing that’s going towards targeted therapy. That’s the future of cancer care. That’s not just about lung cancer. So as we make it more people more aware of biomarker testing that goes across all cancers, that’s an education that is critical research.”

Read more about Chris Draft’s experience with lung cancer and his efforts to build awareness.

Biomarker Testing Patient Stories

Learn about how biomarkers impact a cancer diagnosis and treatment from real-life patients.

Lung Cancer

Chris Draft



Background: Chris' wife Keasha passed away from stage 4 lung cancer one month after they married. He's been a passionate lung cancer advocate ever since.
Focus: Leading with love, making connections to grow lung cancer community, NFL liaison

Rhonda & Jeff Meckstroth



Background: Jeff was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and given months to live, but his wife, Rhonda, fought for a specialist that led to biomarker testing and better treatment options
Focus: Education of biomarker testing for driver mutations, patient and caregiver self-advocacy

Terri C., Non-Small Cell, KRAS+, Stage 3A



Cancer details: KRAS-positive, 3 recurrences → NED
1st Symptoms: Respiratory problems
Treatment: Chemo (Cisplatin & Alimta), surgery (lobectomy), chemo, microwave ablation, 15 rounds of SBRT radiation (twice)

Stephen H., Non-Small Cell, ALK+, Stage 4 (Metastatic)



Cancer details: ALK+ occurs in 1 out of 25 non-small cell lung cancer patients
1st Symptoms: Shortness of breath, jabbing pain while talking, wheezing at night
Treatment: Targeted therapy (alectinib), stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT)

Shyreece P., Non-Small Cell, ALK+, Stage 4



Cancer details: ALK+ occurs in 1 out of 25 non-small cell lung cancer patients
1st Symptoms: Heaviness in arms, wheezing, fatigue
Treatment: IV chemo (carboplatin/pemetrexed/bevacizumab), targeted therapy (crizotinib, alectinib)

Montessa L., Small Cell Lung Cancer



Cancer details: Small cell lung cancer
1st Symptoms: Chest pain, lingering cough
Treatment: Chemotherapy (Cisplatin switched to carboplatin, etoposide), chest radiation, brain radiation (prophylactic)

Ivy E., Non-Small Cell, EGFR+, Stage 4 (Metastatic)



Cancer details: EFGR-positive
1st Symptoms: Pain & stiffness in neck, pain in elbow
Treatment: Two targeted therapies (afatinib & osimertinib), lobectomy (surgery to remove lobe of lung)

Dave B., Non-Small Cell, Neuroendocrine Tumor, Stage 1B



Cancer details: Neuroendocrine tumor
1st Symptoms: 2 bouts of severe pneumonia despite full health
Treatment: Lobectomy (surgery to remove lobe of lung)
Dan W. profile

Dan W., Non-Small Cell, ALK+, Stage 4



1st Symptoms: Cold-like symptoms, shortness of breath, chest pains
Treatment: Radiation, targeted therapy (Alectinib)

Ashley R., Non-Small Cell, EGFR+ T790M, Stage 4
Diagnosis: Stage IV Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer
1st Symptoms: Tiny nodules in lungs
Treatment: Tagrisso (Osimertinib)
Amy G.

Amy G., Non-Small Cell Squamous, MET, Stage 4



1st symptoms: Lump in neck, fatigued
Treatment: Pembrolizumab (Keytruda), SBRT, cryoablation, Crizotinib (Xalkori)
Breast Cancer

Abigail J., Stage 4, Metastatic



Cancer Details: HER2-low, node negative, PIK3CA mutation



1st Symptoms: Back and leg pain, lump in breast



Treatment: Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, CDK4/6 inhibitors
Leukemia
Mary Clare

Mary Clare B., Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)



Cancer details: Relapsed but in remission after 2nd transplant
1st symptoms: Extreme fatigue, upset stomach, bad & persistent headaches
Treatment: Chemotherapy, radiation, 2 bone marrow transplants

Medical Experts on Biomarkers

Dr. Saad Usmani

Saad Z. Usmani, MD



Dr. Saad Usmani, Chief of Myeloma Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering, talks about CAR T-cell therapy, bispecific antibodies, novel therapies and combination therapies.

Deciding Best Myeloma Treatment for a Patient Using a New Strategy



Focus: Possible way of determining optimal treatment for patients without them having to go through treatment first, via using new approaches of studying tumors outside the body, gene expression, and computational data.
Featuring: Praneeth Sudalagunta, Ph.D, Moffitt Cancer Center

Tim Fenske, MD, MS



Role: Hematologist-Oncologist
Focus: chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) & leukemia and lymphoma | CAR T, targeted therapy
Provider: Medical College of Wisconsin

Irene Ghobrial, MD



Role: Clinical investigator and professor of hematological oncology
Focus: Multiple myeloma, Waldenström’s Macroglobulinemia, early screening, clinical trials
Provider:Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (Boston)
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FAQ Health Wellness Integrative

Should I Start Using Cannabis as Part of My Cancer Treatment Plan?

Should I Start Using Cannabis as Part of My Cancer Treatment Plan?

Even just a few years ago the use of marijuana used to be an extremely taboo subject. However, as more and more states begin to legalize marijuana both medically and recreationally you may be wondering if you should consider using cannabis products as part of your cancer treatment plan.

While there are no credible studies that support the ability of cannabis to treat or cure cancer, it has been linked as an effective way to help with pain and symptom management. This includes both the physical and mental side effects that are linked with cancer and chemotherapy.

In this article, we will take a look at all of the ways cannabis can help and hurt with symptom management.

Which Chemo and Cancer Symptoms Can Marijuana Help With?

There is a lot of information on the internet about how marijuana is a cure-all and the solution to every medical problem. 

While there is a definite need for further research on the benefits of the cannabis plant, it’s important that you get your information from a credible source before using cannabis to help manage symptoms. 

Additionally, it is important to consult your doctor and care team prior to using marijuana. That being said, cannabis has been shown as an effective way of helping manage the following symptoms associated with chemo and cancer:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stimulation of appetite
  • Pain relief

Watch our interview with Dr. Donald Abrahms to learn more about the impact of cannabis in managing cancer and chemotherapy symptoms.

What is the Best Way to Ingest Cannabis to Help Manage Cancer Symptoms?

When it comes to cannabis you have a lot of options when choosing how to consume it. Each method of consumption will impact you differently. One of the best ways to consume cannabis in terms of the effectiveness of managing symptoms is through smoke inhalation. 

However, what’s best for you may vary based on how you react to each form of consumption and the type of relief that you are looking for.

I always tell people, if you want better control over the onset, the depth and the duration of the effect, inhalation is probably better than oral ingestion.

Dr. Donald Abrahms
Smoke or Vape Inhalation

When you inhale cannabis by through smoke, it takes about two and a half minutes to heat peak concentration in your plasma. It then dissipates rapidly. 

For this reason, you have more control over when you get a “high” from inhaling the plant, and over time you will understand how long the high lasts. You also are less likely to “overdose” yourself because the feeling is more instant.

Oil Vaping

Another popular method of consumption of cannabis is through oil vaping. While this will produce the same psychological effects as smoke inhalation, you are also inhaling the oil. This is unnatural and can damage your lungs. 

Edibles

Edibles like baked goods or gummies are also a popular way to consume cannabis. While these can be more convenient, they produce a different kind of “high.”

When you consume an edible the THC takes the first pass through the digestive system. This results in it are taking about two and a half hours to feel the effects of the cannabis. Additionally, it enters your plasma at a much lower concentration. As a result, you feel a little more “zonked.”

Oils and Tinctures

Another form of cannabis consumption is through a liquid drop that you place under your tung. This results in a form of hybrid high between edibles and smoke inhalation. 

You feel the immediate high from the oil absorbed under your tung. However, you also digest some of the oil and get a portion of the prolonged high that you feel from edibles. 

FDA Approved Pills

According to the American Cancer Society, The FDA has approved two pills that contain THC to help in the management of nausea, dizziness, and appetite stimulation. The two drugs are:

  • Dronabinol (Marinol®) – A gelatin capsule of THC.
  • Nabilone (Cesamet®) – A synthetic cannabinoid that acts like THC.

Both drugs give you a high and are absorbed similarly to edibles. The benefit here is that the dose can be controlled and since they are FDA approved, you know what’s going into them.

Of course, cannabis I like for symptom management. Cannabis is good for decreasing nausea. It’s the only anti-nausea medicine that also increases appetite works against pain for some people, it’s useful for anxiety, depression and sleep.

– Dr. Dr. Donald Abrahms

What are the Negative Side Effects of Cannabis Use in Cancer Patients?

While cannabis can help with symptom management, it can also have some negative side effects. Some of the common side effects linked to marijuana use include:

  • Increase heart rate
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • An extended euphoric feeling
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Vomiting
  • Hallucination
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

If you feel these side effects, but want to continue using cannabis try decreasing your dose or starting a smaller dose and increasing it slowly.

Do CBD Products Work in Helping Manage Cancer Symptoms?

With the legalization of CBD products in several states, there have been many claims as to how CBD can help with cancer symptoms. In reality, it is a combination of THC and CBD that provides symptomatic relief. Therefore, a product that is solely CBD-based has not been scientifically proven to provide relief.

While studies in the future may prove otherwise, you a better of using a product that has THC in it to help manage your symptoms.

The studies in people who use the relief app show that the whole plan is the best for symptom management and that it’s the amount of THC that is associated with relief of symptoms as well as the adverse effects, whereas CBD does neither

-Dr. Donald Abrahms

Where is Medical Marijuana Use Legal?

The status of the legalization of marijuana for medical and recreational use is changing on a yearly basis. If you are looking for the most up-to-date information check out a map of each state’s marijuana law’s here.

Should I Consult with My Doctor Before Using Cannabis to Manage Cancer Symptoms?

You need to consult with your doctor before trying to use cannabis to manage your symptoms. Even if it’s illegal in your state you should still inform your doctor that you are using cannabis. The use of the drug could impact your treatment plan and how your care team is interpreting your medical results.

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FAQ

How Do I Find a Cancer Support Group?

How Do I Find a Cancer Support Group?

Being diagnosed with cancer is an extremely emotional experience. It can be a very confusing time with a whirlwind of feelings. You don’t have to go through this experience alone. A cancer support group can help make the experience easier.

You can find a cancer support group by:

  • Reaching out to your local hospital
  • Completing an internet search
  • Discussing options with other cancer patients
  • Asking your social worker

There are thousands of cancer support groups across the country that cater to every age group, style of support, and type of cancer. Finding a support group may be as easy as completing a simple internet search but finding a group that fits your emotional needs may consider a bit more thought.

In this article, we will give you all of the resources you need to find a local cancer support group along with suggestions on what to consider when choosing a support group that is right for you. 

How Do Cancer Support Groups Help?

You can experience a wide range of emotions when being diagnosed with cancer: fear, anger, disbelief, and depression. It is a lot to unpack and coping with this wave of emotion can be extremely difficult. 

While families and loved ones are a great resource, they may not understand the difficulties that you are experiencing. You may have thoughts or feelings that you don’t feel comfortable sharing with the people closest to you. That is where support groups come in.

Support groups offer a safe place to express all of the emotions that you’re feeling as a cancer survivor. It’s a group of people who are all going through a similar experience to you. Meeting with a group of like-minded individuals can help you feel supported in your journey and help you feel less helpless or less alone.

While support groups aren’t right for everybody, they are a great option to try as you adapt to this new reality.

Steve

Read More About Steve’s Prostate Cancer Story.

It’s destructive to men to make them feel like they’re a wuss if they talk about their pain. I do not agree or subscribe to that at all. I live and speak very openly and encourage others to do the same.

-Steve R.

Which Type of Cancer Support Groups Are Available?

Every person has unique interests and needs. Therefore, one type of support won’t fit every individual. That’s why there is a variety of different types of support groups to fit the need of every individual.

Peer-led Support Groups

Peer-led support groups are run by the members of the group. This is a great option for someone looking for a sense of community and a place to work through their emotions with friends. 

Professional-led Support Groups

Professional-led support groups are led by a trained professional such as a:

  • Social worker
  • Counselor
  • Psychologist
  • Other trained professional

This is a great option for someone who is looking for guidance on how to cope with their emotions. It’s still in a group setting so you still get the sense of community and the experience of hearing how others are handling the same situation.

Informational Support Groups

Informational support groups are great for individuals who are looking to learn more about their specific form of cancer and treatment. They are usually led by a professional who then invites doctors, nurses, etc. to give talks on subjects the group is interested in learning more about.

Online Support Groups

You may live in a remote area, not want to travel often, or even feel uncomfortable meeting in person. Online support groups are available to connect people across the world with a community of individuals going through the same experience. 

Groups Designed for Specific Audiences

In order to help you connect with people in a similar situation as you, most support groups are geared towards a specific audience. The type of audiences may be broken down by:

  • Age group
  • Type of cancer
  • Specific stage of cancer

If you’d rather just meet with other individuals with cancer or a wide age range, some groups cater to a more general population as well.

How Do I Choose a Cancer Support Group?

With so many options for support you may be wondering, how do I choose the right group for me? Three are a couple of questions that you should ask yourself before deciding on a support group.

  • What type of support am I looking for? Emotional, professional, or informational?
  • What demographic am I most comfortable sharing personal information with?
  • Am I looking for a large group or a small group?
  • When does the group meet? How often?
  • Where is the group located?
  • Who leads the group?
  • Do I want an online group or an in-person group?

Once you’ve considered some of these questions, reach out to the group organizer and talk over any concerns or questions you may have. You can also try out a couple of different support groups before deciding on one that you will attend regularly.

Read More About Lia’s Cancer Story.

The only way you can go is forward, so keep going. You have a community of people who are waiting to support you and love you. I hope you’ll connect with those around you and other cancer survivors because we are here for you.

-Lia S.

Online Resources for Finding a Cancer Support Group

Now that we’ve had the opportunity to identify which types of support groups are available and the things to consider when choosing a group it’s time to start searching! Here are some resources to help you narrow down your search.

The American Cancer Society

The American Cancer Society has a wonderful database full of support groups of all kinds and sizes. On their website, you can search for a support group by zip code, city, and state. You can even narrow down your search by selecting a specific keyword that interests you.

If you prefer an online support group to an in-person support group, you can sign up for their Cancer Survivors Network which allows you to connect with thousands of other cancer survivors via chat rooms and messaging boards.

Cancer.Net

Cancer.net is another wonderful resource for finding support groups specific to your type of cancer. Similar to the American Cancer Society they have a general database of cancer support groups. 

However, they also have a drop-down option to select specific resources geared towards a specific kind of cancer. This feature is extremely helpful when trying to find a support group that is right for you.

Cancer Support Community

If you are looking for a more informal way to connect with the cancer community cancersupportcommunity.orgoffers a way to connect online. They have a blog and messaging board that is great for getting information and asking questions about the information that has been presented.

They also support traditional in-person support groups through their find a location feature. Additionally, if you are looking for immediate support they have a cancer support helpline that is available from 9 am to 5 pm 7 days a week.

Use Your Care Team as a Reference

While online resources can be a great way to start looking at what groups are available, your care team is the best reference for finding a local support group. Make sure to ask them what support groups they recommend and give them a try.

Ultimately, there is no one specific support group that is a perfect fit for every individual. Keep trying support groups until you feel that you’ve found a community that works for your and helps you through your treatment and beyond. 

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