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Cancer care

If you’re diagnosed with cancer, our team will work with you, your primary care doctor, and other health care providers to develop a specialized treatment plan. We offer personal, compassionate and expert care.

What is cancer?

"Cancer is a disease in which some of the body’s cells grow uncontrollably and spread to other parts of the body.

Normally, human cells grow and multiply (through a process called cell division) to form new cells as the body needs them. When cells grow old or become damaged, they die, and new cells take their place.

Sometimes this orderly process breaks down, and abnormal or damaged cells grow and multiply when they shouldn’t. These cells may form tumors, which are lumps of tissue. Tumors can be cancerous (malignant) or not cancerous (benign)."

From the National Cancer Institute - Understanding cancer

Risk factors for developing cancer

A person’s age, lifestyle, environment, genetic makeup and family history can increase the likelihood of developing cancer. Watch the Did You Know? Risk Factors for Cancer video or click each section below to learn about how these factors contribute to the development of cancer.


Many people diagnosed with cancer are over 65 years old. Some cancers take a long time to develop. As you grow older, your cells age and are more likely to grow abnormally. They grow abnormally due to certain risk factors and changes in the cell.

Life choices

There are a number of life choices that impact your risk for developing cancer. A few examples include:

  • Using tobacco
  • Excessive use of alcohol
  • Prolonged exposure to the sun without protection
  • A diet high in processed foods and low in fiber  
  • Not maintaining a health weight

Family history

5 to 10% of cancers are passed on from your family. Talk with your primary care provider about any family history of cancer. Screening for cancer and the need for genetic counseling should be considered.

Chronic health conditions

People with some chronic health issues, such as Crohn’s Disease, are at higher risk in developing cancers.

Your environment

Up to 19% of cancers are from exposure to carcinogens (substance that causes cancer). Some examples include arsenic, asbestos, benzene, beryllium, radiation, radon, tar, cadmium and nickel.  

Exposure to viruses

Hepatitis and HPV are known viruses that can cause cancer. 

Prevention and screening

Getting recommended preventive services, such as screening tests and immunizations, is an important part of staying healthy. The preventive services that are recommended for you depends on your age, sex, health status and family history.


Cancer screening is the process of looking for cancer when there are no symptoms. Talk to your primary care provider every year to discuss and schedule the screening tests that are recommended for you.


Be involved in your health care. Work with your health care team, whether through virtual care or an in-person appointment, to learn more about some of the ways you can take an active role in disease prevention.

Quit smoking or using smokeless tobacco.

Get 24/7 support with a Smokefree app for your smartphone. These free apps offer help just for you based on your smoking patterns, moods, motivation to quit, and quitting goals.

You have your best chance at quitting tobacco when you get behavioral counseling and use cessation medication. Learn more about how to quit.

Eat foods high in fiber.

Aim for 25-30 grams of soluble fiber a day to reduce your risk of colon cancer.  Foods high in fiber include fruits, vegetable and whole grains.

​​​​​​​Exercise each day.

Studies show that people who are active for at least 30 minutes a day reduce the risk of breast cancer, colorectal cancer and endometrial cancer.

Maintain a healthy weight.

Some cancers are linked to being overweight. This  includes colorectal, pancreatic, kidney and gallbladder cancers. The VA MOVE! Weight Management Program is designed to help Veterans with weight loss.

Limit alcohol.

If you drink alcohol, limit your intake to one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men. Learn more about VA treatment programs if you need assistance with reducing your use of alcohol.

Limit exposure to harmful UV rays.

When you are in the sun, wear protective clothing and sun screen.

Get immunizations.

Some viruses increase your risk of developing cancer, such as human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis B. Ask your primary care provider about vaccinations to make the best choice for your health.

Cancer care treatment

If you’re diagnosed with cancer, our team will work with you to develop a specialized treatment plan. Our treatments include:

Medical hematology and oncology: Some cancers respond best to treatment with medications. A medical oncologist is a physician trained to treat cancer using medications such as chemotherapy and immunotherapy.

Radiation oncology: Some cancers respond best to treatment with just radiation or a combination of treatments that include radiation. A radiation oncologist is a physician trained to treat cancer using radiation therapy.

Surgical oncology: Surgical oncology is a field of medicine that uses surgery to treat cancer. The main goal is to find harmful tumors in your body and remove them. Doctors who practice surgical oncology can also screen you for cancer or find out if the disease has spread to other parts of your body. Minneapolis VA has many surgeons who work with the oncology teams to make sure the treatment plan is right for you.

Woman Veterans care: Our women's health program offers complete health care for Women Veterans of all ages. Areas of cancer care available at Minneapolis VA include comprehensive breast care and cervical cancer screening. For cancer care not available at the VA, we will coordinate community referrals.

Comprehensive breast care includes:

  • 3D screening mammography
  • Diagnostic imaging
  • Breast biopsies
  • High-risk screening
  • Breast surgery and reconstruction
  • Nurse navigation

Cervical cancer screening and surveillance includes:

  • Pap and HPV testing
  • Colposcopy and biopsy
  • Clinic-based treatment, such as a LEEP (loop electrosurgical excision procedure)
  • Surgery-based treatment, such as a hysterectomy 
  • Nurse coordination and navigation
  • Preventive care, such as smoking cessation counseling and HPV vaccination

Your cancer care team

Cancer care is provided by a team, including:

Physicians: Physicians specialize in the use of medications such as chemotherapy and immunotherapy to treat your cancer.

Advanced practice providers: Trained to prescribe medications to treat and manage your symptoms from cancer.

Clinical pharmacy specialists: Pharmacists trained to support your cancer team and you to make sure you are receiving the right medications. They also help monitor you if you are taking chemotherapy by mouth or answer questions you may have about your symptoms caused by chemotherapy.

Registered dietitians: Some cancer treatments can change how food tastes or curb your appetite, a registered dietitian is specially trained to work with your diet to keep your body healthy when you have cancer.

Registered nurses: Specialized nurses trained to administer medications to treat your cancer and help you navigate the system during your cancer treatment. Many times this is the nurse you will talk with to ask your cancer care provider questions or address problems you may have while receiving cancer treatment.

Licensed practical nurses: Nurses trained to work with your cancer team when you come to the clinic to see your cancer care provider.

Advanced medical support assistants: An advanced MSA is the person you generally meet first, who helps coordinate your appointments and communication with your cancer team.

Social workers: Oncology social workers can help you understand your diagnosis and treatment plans and help you improve communication with your team. The social worker will also be able to help find community resources to make your cancer treatment less stressful.

Rehabilitation specialists: A rehabilitation specialist is a medical or psychosocial professional who assists patients in their recovery from cancer treatment. Different rehabilitation specialists include physical therapists working on your strength and conditioning, occupational therapists who help make sure you can take care of yourself and speech therapists who help with your ability to swallow and talk.

Clinical psychologists: Clinical psychologists are trained professionals who works directly in the mental health field with you, one-on-one or in a group setting, diagnosing and treating patients for various different mental health issues that impact you when you have cancer.

Health care partnerships

VA National Oncology Program: We are part of a national health care system providing care for Veterans. We can provide care where and when you need it through TeleOncology, allowing you to connect to specialists worldwide using virtual technology.

Community partnerships: When services not available within the Minneapolis VA Cancer Care Program, patients are referred to the community to make sure the best treatment option is provided.

Education and training partnerships: We have one of the largest education and training programs in the VA with more than 1,500 trainees rotating through annually. Our program has active affiliations with over 80 college, university and vocational school programs in allied health and graduate and undergraduate medical professions.

We have a particularly strong partnerships with the University of Minnesota in providing clinical services, training and research across a variety of disciplines.

Cancer research

We are a member of the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology. The Alliance has nearly 10,000 cancer specialists from hospitals, medical centers and clinics across the United States and Canada. The Alliance develops and conduct clinical trials with promising new cancer therapies. They develop the best treatment and prevention strategies for cancer. They also research ways to ease side effects of cancer and cancer treatments. 

We are enrolling in research studies for lung, prostate, renal cancers and leukemia. Talk to your oncologist if you are interested in participating.

Learn more about the Alliance for Clinical for Clinical Trials in Oncology.

Annual report

Resources for Veterans and families

Caregiver support

We offer a number of services to support you and the Veteran you care for. Ask a caregiver support coordinator to help you find what you need, whether it's in-home help, someone to listen or anything in between. Ask your provider to place a VA Caregiver Consult.

Learn more and connect with our Caregiver Support Program

Veteran-specific resources

VA National Oncology Program Office

Oncology program strategy: to ensure that Veterans have easy access to reliable, excellent cancer prevention, detection and treatment services.

VA National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention

Health promotion and disease prevention to support Veterans in achieving optimal health and well-being.

VA Office of Research & Development

VA researchers are working hard to understand the mechanisms that cause cancer, evaluate existing treatments and find new drugs and therapies for Veterans and others with cancer.


"National organization dedicated to providing free, professional support services including case management, counseling, support groups, educational workshops, publications and financial assistance to anyone affected by cancer."

Community resources

" is a comprehensive resource for cancer patients and their caregivers that provides chemotherapy drug and side effect information, cancer wellness information, and links to additional reliable resources and organizations."

National Cancer Institute

"NCI leads, conducts, and supports cancer research across the nation to advance scientific knowledge and help all people live longer, healthier lives."

A Breath of Hope Lung Foundation

"A Breath of Hope Lung Foundation fights lung cancer by funding innovative U.S. lung cancer research, raising awareness and supporting lung cancer patients and families."

Open Arms of Minnesota

"Open Arms of Minnesota is a nonprofit that cooks and delivers free, nutritious meals to people living with life-threatening illnesses in the Twin Cities."

Angel Foundation

"Angel Foundation is a Twin Cities-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is to provide support to local adults with cancer and their families."