One of the most common questions patients ask is “How fast will my cancer grow? This is an especially important question when someone has been recently diagnosed with cancer of any kind. Although no one can state exactly how quickly cancer grows, this article should give some insights into how cancerous tumors develop and grow.

How long does cancer take to develop?

The speed by which cancer develops differs from person to person and from one type of cancer to another. For this reason, an exact amount of time cannot be assigned to tumor growth. However, there are some similarities which can help in understanding cancer growth.

Consider lung cancer. For a lung cancer tumor to grow large enough to be detected by x-rays, the single cancer cell must divide (that is, double in size) at least 30 times. This will put it at just under a half an inch (or one centimeter) in dimension. While this division may not seem like much, try this. Using a calculator, multiply 1 x 2. Then the result (2) x 2. Then multiply by 2 again and keep doing this 30 times. The final figure is far larger than that which it was at the start. So, a cell dividing at this rate can grow large in a relatively short time.

The time it takes for a lung cancer tumor to grow to this stage is generally 3 – 6 months. This is the smallest size at which the tumor can be detected, but often learning of lung cancer takes years of cellular development.

To help patients understand the growth of their cancers and to help physicians develop the appropriate treatment plans for each patient, stages have been developed. Thus, a patient can be said to have a stage 0,1, 2, 2, or 4 tumor.

What are the 4 Stages of Cancer?

The stages of cancer were developed to explain both the size and spread of the disease. The lower the number, the better. Although there are technically five (5) stages, oncologists are only needed for four (4) of these. This is because stage 0 just means that there is a growth with the potential to become cancerous, but it has yet to develop into cancer. This is known as a carcinoma in situ. The 4 stages of concern are:

  1. Stage I – Early stage cancer is small and isolated to one location.
  2. Stage II – Larger tumors are considered stage II.
  3. Stage III – Larger tumors which have spread cancer cells to nearby tissues and lymph nodes are stage III.
  4. Stage IV – Advanced cancer means that the cancerous cells have metastasized, or spread throughout the body.

What is the fastest growing form of cancer?

Liver cancer is considered the fastest growing form of cancer in terms of how many people are diagnosed each year. In the United States, more than 40,000 new cases are reported each year. Key reasons for the increase include a higher rate of Hepatitis C and higher rates of obesity.

As to forms of cancer which grow the fastest, small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is generally accepted to grow the quickest. However, of new lung cancer diagnoses, only about 15% are SCLC. 

What does slow growing cancer mean?

The expression “slow growing cancer” refers to the cell grades involved. Low grade cancer cells are still cancer, but under a microscope appear very similar to normal cells. These grow more slowly and are treated differently from high grade cancer cells, which grow more quickly.

How do you know if cancer has spread?

Metastatic cancer is the term used for cancer which has spread. When cancer is first diagnosed, it may be found in the breast, lungs, or elsewhere. The type of cancer will determine the best course of treatment for each type of cancer is different; even the cells appear different under a microscope. When the cancer metastasizes, or spreads, it is still the same cancer, but in a different location in the body. By examining tissue and blood samples from other parts of the body, physicians can determine whether the original cancer has spread. This also allows them to change the treatment plan if necessary.

Are You Concerned About Cancer?

If you are concerned you may have cancer, know you have a tumor, or have a friend or family member facing this battle, do not fight it alone. The Oncology team at Kymera Independent Physicians has been helping people just like you in Southeastern New Mexico for over 22 years drive cancer into remission. Why not make an appointment today at any of our convenient cancer centers: Roswell, Hobbs, or Carlsbad.

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