The ivy-covered bridge by the Finlay Dam in Wellesley/Photo by Douglas Flynn

Few words are as dreaded as the term cancer. The American Cancer Society defines cancer as a group of diseases characterized by uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells. If the spread is not controlled, it can result in death. Cancer is treated with surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, biological therapy and targeted therapy.

What caregivers should know about cancer

  • Cancer is not just one disease but many diseases. There are more than 100 different types of cancer. Most cancers are named for the organ or type of cell in which they start – for example, cancer that begins in the colon is called colon cancer; cancer that begins in melanocytes of the skin is called melanoma.
  • According to the American Cancer Society’s “Cancer Facts & Figures 2022” [PDF], estimates put the number of new cases of cancer in the United States in 2022 at 1,918,030, including 42,190 in Massachusetts, and deaths from cancer in the U.S. in 2022 at 609,360 including 12,520 in Massachusetts. That’s an average of almost 1,670 deaths per day nationwide, as cancer remains the second most common cause of death in the U.S., accounting for nearly one out of every four deaths.
  • On a more encouraging note, more and more people are surviving cancer. The five-year survival rate for all forms of cancers was 68% for the period of 2002-08, up from just 49% in 1975-77. There were an estimated 13.7 million cancer survivors alive in the U.S. on Jan. 1, 2012, and that number is expected to rise to 18 million by the start of 2022.
  • The most common forms of cancer in the U.S. are bladder cancer, breast cancer, colon and rectal cancer, endometrial cancer, kidney (renal cell) cancer, leukemia, lung cancer, melanoma, no-Hodgkin lymphoma, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer and thyroid cancer.
  • According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the single greatest risk factor for developing cancer is aging, with more than 60% of cancers in the U.S. occurring in people age 65 and older.
  • Older people with cancer often have different concerns than other adults with cancer, including maintaining independence, feelings of social isolation, spiritual concerns, financial concerns, physical limitations and transportation issues.

What MetroWest caregivers should know

Fall colors on display on Natick Common /Photo by Douglas Flynn

A diagnosis of cancer is always a frightening prospect, but local patients and their caregivers can take some comfort in the knowledge that the region boasts some of the top cancer treatment centers in the nation. The Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center in Boston was ranked fifth nationally for cancer treatment by U.S. News and World Report in 2013, with Massachusetts General Hospital right behind at No. 6. The Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, also in Boston, was ranked 50th.

MetroWest patients don’t have to go into the city for quality care though, as the MetroWest Medical Center’s Framingham Union Hospital is home to the MetroWest Cancer Care Center, Newton-Wellesley Hospital offers the Vernon Cancer Center and the UMass Memorial Cancer Center at Marlborough Hospital was opened in 2013. The Cancer Center at Milford Regional Medical Center in Milford is another local alternative, and is affiliated with the prestigious Dana Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center.

Related information and additional web resources

The American Cancer Society has a section of its website dedicated to caregivers as well as an extensive downloadable Caregiver Resource Guide [PDF].

The National Cancer Institute, which also features a website in Spanish, has extensive information about the many forms of the disease, as well as several resources for caregivers:

For a more personalized guidebook, Help for Cancer Caregivers has developed an interactive guide that allows users to set up a private account and select just the topics they want to get more information on. That online resource was developed by CancerCare, Michigan State University, Indiana University, Caregiver Action Network and Wellpoint.

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