The Ericksons

Category Archives: Cancer Information

These articles are filled with information about general cancer topics such as prevention and resources.


X-RayAn X-ray is the most commonly used imaging scan for most people since it is simple, safe, and low cost. Doctors use x-ray to diagnose injury and lung issues, from bronchitis to lung cancer.An x-ray uses radiation in small quantities. The radiation (or x-ray) passes through the body, capturing an image. The rays are blocked by dense tissue, bone, and objects in the body. Radiologists look at the x-ray picture and send a report of their findings to the doctor.CT ScansCT stands for Computed Tomography. It’s a painless scan that combines the power of x-ray with computers to make images. The images are 360-degreecross-sectionall views of your body.Doctors often use CT scans when they want to see bone, soft tissue and blood vessels at the same time. It’s also okay for a patient who has metal in their body to have a CT. Because of this capability, it is a common scan for a cancer patient to have.CT scans often involve oral and/or intravenous contrast. This clear, tasteless liquid helps radiologists see certain things in the scan, such as lymph nodes, better. During the scan, you lay on a scanner table. The table will move you through the scanner, while Read more…


Undifferentiated, A Definition (1)A term used to describe cells or tissues that do not have specialized (“mature”) structures or functions. Undifferentiated cancer cells often grow and spread quickly.This is a somewhat scientific post. Keep reading because it’s very interesting.Tumor grade is different than cancer stage.After the doctor biopsies, suspicious tissue, he or she sends it to a pathologist. The pathologist then determines whether the tissue is malignant. Furthermore, they can tell what kind of cancer it is, as well as what the tumor’s stage is. Your doctor may also ask the pathologist to also check for specific mutations which can be treated using targeted treatments.When a pathologist looks at the cancerous tissue under a microscope, they assign a tumor grade. This is based on how similar the tumor cells and the tissue are to normal, healthy cells. They call tumor cells that are more like healthy cells, “well differentiated.” They call more abnormal the cells, “undifferentiated.” This is important because, in undifferentiated cancer, the cells are immature. In addition, undifferentiated tumors are likely to grow and spread quickly.Making the GradeThere are several ways to grade tumors, This is a popular method. Pathologists give tumors a grade of 1, 2, 3, or 4. Read more…


Not that long ago, cancer treatments were synonymous with losing your hair and suffering from nausea and vomiting. Now with the advancements in cancer research, it’s not uncommon for patients to go complete a treatment regimen without either of these issues.  One of these advancements is targeted therapy, also called targeted treatments. Targeted treatments “target” specific genes or proteins found in cancer cells These genes and proteins are related to cancer growth.Many different types of cells make up the tissues in your body, from your bones to your skin. Cancer cells are created when specific genes in healthy cells mutate or change. To learn more about how cancer cells are made, check out my post, C is for Cancer Cells.What is a Targeted Treatment?Your genes tell your cells how to make the proteins that keep your cells working. What happens if your genes change, or mutate? The proteins will change, too. This is when you get cancer cells growing and spreading out of control. Like zombies, they don’t know when to die.Targeted treatments “target” the mutations like a zombie killer. They try to normalize the cell growth by turning off signals that tell the cancer cell to grow or divide. Read more…


The Lymphatic SystemYour lymphatic system is part of your circulatory system AND your immune system. It’s a network of vessels and lymph nodes that make up your body’s drainage system.These vessels move excess fluid that’s been collected from all over the body back into your blood stream. Once the fluid enters the lymphatic vessels, it is known as “lymph.”The word Lymph comes from the Latin word lympha, meaning, water.As these fluids move through the tiny lymph nodes, Harmful organisms and cancer cells are trapped and destroyed by the lymphocytes. Those lymphocytes are then added to the lymph which flows from the nodes, back into the bloodstream.Unfortunately, the lymphatic system is also notorious for transporting cancer cells around the body, also known as metastasis.Doctors call it called lymphoma when cancer begins in the lymphatic tissue. Leukemia is related cancer in the bone marrow and blood.What’s a lymph node?A lymph node is a small, kidney bean-shaped organs. They contain B and T cells (lymphocytes) which are part of your adaptive immune system. (see Immune System)LymphadenopathyIt’s called lymphadenopathy when one, or more, of your lymph nodes, become enlarged. This usually happens when you have an infection, or in response to inflammation. When many the enlarged lymph nodes are Read more…


What is your immune system?The immune system is your first line of defense against infections, both viral and bacterial, as well as other diseases. The immune system, which is made up of special cells, proteins, tissues, and organs.How does it work?Your immune system works through a series of actions known as the immune response. This response attacks invaders including organisms and substances that attack and your body’s systems and cause illness and disease.Three Types of ImmunityAdaptive ImmunityThis type of immunity is very active, developing throughout our lives as we are exposed to various germs and diseases, as well as when we are vaccinated. Adaptive immunity involved the parts of our immune system that are in our blood.Most people know that their blood is made of white and red cells. The white blood cells are part of your immune system. They are also known as leukocytes.There are two basic types of leukocytes:PhagocytesPhagocytes are cells that destroy invading organisms. The most common type of phagocyte is the neutrophil. Neutrophils fight bacterial invaders.LymphocytesLymphocytes are created in the bone marrow. If they stay in the bone marrow to mature, they become B lymphocytes (think B for bone marrow). B lymphocytes produce antibodies.  Antibodies are Read more…


One of the things we learned early on in Dan’s cancer journey was that even if a treatment worked, eventually, it wouldn’t. Cancer cells become drug resistant.Our StoryWhen doctors first diagnosed Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, they perscribed a targeted treatment called, Tarceva. The treatment worked well for 18 months before the cancer in his body became drug resistant and again progressed.After that, he volleyed back and forth between targeted treatments, immunotherapy, and traditional chemotherapies. He would take each treatment until the cancer again became drug resistant.Then, the doctors would put him on a new drug. This is something that’s often difficult for people to understand.Once a treatment works, why can’t you use it indefinitely? There are several reasons for this.Remember in yesterday’s blog on cancer cells, we learned about the ways that cancer cells are different from healthy cells? As these cells mutate, they act more and more abnormal. One of the ways they differ is that the cells can become drug resistant to the chemotherapy treatments that we rely on the kill the cancer cells.One form of drug resistance in chemotherapy is similar to the way we become drug resistant to antibiotics after taking antibiotics repeatedly, inappropriately, or for long Read more…


I recently went to the dermatologist for a full exam. As a bonus, she removed a small lump that I’ve had for years. She numbed the area and in 2 seconds (maybe even less) removed the pea-sized lump, putting in a couple of stitches and a Band-Aid. Then, she labeled the sample and sent it off to the lab.  She assured me that it looked normal, so I shouldn’t worry, but that it was very important to make sure that I get the results. Then she gave me written post-biopsy care instructions.Other biopsies I thought about other times in my life when a biopsy has been important.  In the early 1980s, my dad discovered a tumor behind his ear. I still recall hearing my parents talking about it, worrying until the results came back benign.It was that experience that I remembered when I felt my husband’s hard, enlarged, supraclavicular lymph nodes. Only, I knew more as an adult. It was even scarier.I was also in the room when they did a biopsy on Dan…and when we got the results.What is a biopsy?A biopsy is an examination of tissue removed from a living body to discover the presence, cause, or extent of Read more…


The earlier cancer is detected, the more easily and effectively it can be treated. Asymptomatic, or “quiet” cancer often spreads, unchecked to other locations (i.e. metastatic). This is why some forms of cancer have a reputation for being especially deadly.Some cancers make themselves known early on because of a side effect that sends a patient to the doctor. An example would be esophageal cancer. Because of a tumor on the esophagus, swallowing would become difficult and cause a patient to go to the doctor.Some cancers that have few or no symptoms until the cancer is already advanced. Because of the asymptomatic presentation of these cancers, they are among the deadliest.:Lung CancerKidney CancerOvarian CancerCancer of the Tail of the PancreasOften, the earliest symptoms of cancer are easily dismissed as a run-of-the-mill ache or illness (like indigestion or the flu). It’s not practical, or even safe, to run testing because of every minor symptom. When there are risk factors, however, they shouldn’t be dismissed so quickly.Our StoryIn October of 2012, Dan was a healthy, vibrant man of 51. The day after he helped a friend install a garage door, he had a back ache that he dismissed as a pulled muscle. If Read more…

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