What is Cancer?

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Cancer is a disease of the cells, which are the body’s basic building blocks.  The body constantly makes new cells to help us grow, replace worn-out tissue and heal injuries.  Normally, cells multiply and die in an orderly way.

Sometimes cells don’t grow, divide and die in the usual way.  This may cause blood or lymph fluid in the body to become abnormal, or forma a lump called a tumor.  A tumor can be benign or malignant.

Benign tumor – Cells are confined to one area and are not able to spread to other parts of the body.  This is not cancer.

Malignant tumor – This is made up of cancerous cells, which have the ability to spread by traveling through the bloodstream or lymphatic system (lymph fluid).

The cancer that first develops in a tissue or organ is called the primary cancer.  A malignant tumor is usually named after the organ or type of cell affected.

A malignant tumor that has not spread to other parts of the body is called localized cancer.  A tumor may invade deeper into surrounding tissue and can grow its own blood vessels in a process called angiogenesis.

If cancerous cells grow and form another tumor at a new site, it is called a secondary cancer or metastasis.  A metastasis keeps the name of the original cancer.  For example, testicular cancer that has spread to the lungs is called metastatic testicular cancer, even though the person may be experiencing symptoms caused by problems in the lungs.