What is Cancer?

Cancer is the abnormal growth, reproduction, and spread of body cells. The human body contains trillions of cells grouped to make tissues such as muscles, bones, and skin. Most normal cells grow, reproduce, and die in response to signals inside and outside the body. If these processes occur in a balanced and orderly way, the body remains healthy and functions normally. Problems can begin when normal cells mutate, or change, into cancer cells. A normal cell can become a cancer cell for no apparent reason or because of repeated or heavy exposure to a carcinogenic, or cancer-causing substance; such as tobacco, alcohol, or chemicals.

Both the behavior and appearance of cancer cells differ from normal cells. Mutation occurs in the cell's DNA, or genetic material. DNA controls the cell's behavior and appearance. Once DNA has mutated, the cell is different from the healthy cells nearby. The mutated cell appears different and functions in other ways from normal cells. The mutated cell detaches from its neighbors and does not "know" when to stop growing or die. In a sense, the mutated cell does not "obey" the internal signals that control the other cells and behaves independently rather than cooperatively.

The mutated cell divides into two new mutated cells that divide into four mutated cells. This process continues until the mutated cells form a mass called a tumor. A tumor can be self-contained, a condition where the mutated cells will not invade surrounding tissue or travel through the bloodstream to other sites. A self-contained tumor such as a wart is benign and is generally not life-threatening and can usually be surgically removed.

If tumor cells grow and divide, damage surrounding normal cells, and invade other body sites, the tumor is malignant, or cancerous. The greatest danger in a malignant tumor, is its ability to spread throughout the body, in a process called, metastasis. During a metastasis, the tumor cells grow, divide, and eventually enter the bloodstream. There, the tumor cells travel to other body sites, implanting themselves in healthy tissue and growing into new malignant tumors. As tumors grow and multiply, they rob normal healthy cells of their nutrients and oxygen. Gradually, with the progression of the cancer, healthy cells die and the patient's health and functions deteriorate, often resulting in death.

More than 100 different diseases are classified as a type of cancer. These diseases include leukemia, non-Hodgkins disease, myeloma, and melanoma. Most cancers fall into one of three main groups: carcinomas, sarcomas, or leukemia and lymphoma. Carcinomas includes cancers that originate from cells that form the skin (such as skin cancer), line the internal organs (such as lung cancer), or form glands (such as breast cancer). Sarcomas includes cancers that originate from connective tissues such as bone and cartilage (such as osteosarcoma, or bone cancer) or from muscle tissues (such as rhabdomyosarcoma, or a malignant tumor in skeletal muscle). Leukemia and lymphoma includes cancers that originate from blood-forming cells and cells within the immune system, respectively. This group includes Hodgkin's lymphoma, which is a cancer of the lymph nodes, and granulocytic leukemia, which is a cancer of the white blood cells.

In the United States, skin cancer is the most frequent type of cancer. Breast cancer is the next most frequent type, followed by lung cancer, prostate cancer, colon and rectal cancer, bladder cancer, uterine cancer, oral cancer, leukemia, and pancreatic cancer. Formerly, a cancer diagnosis meant certain death. Today, modern medical treatment enables more cancer patients to live longer, healthier lives. Many other cancer patients will recover completely. (Unless you have Small Cell Lung Cancer.)
(About 2,000 years ago, the Greek physician Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, observed that cancer cell damage, looked like crab claws. In Greek, karkinoma means crab. In English, carcinoma means a malignant tumor. In Latin, cancer means crab.)

 Notice: The information provided herein should not be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions.

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