What is cancer?

Cancer is a general term for a group of diseases that occur when there is an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in one or more organs or tissues of the body. Cancer is a serious disease and is one of the leading causes of death globally, according to the World Health Organization (Source: WHO).

Common types of cancer include:

Normally, cells in the body that are old or damaged stop dividing and die. These cells are replaced by healthy young cells. Cancer occurs when old or damaged cells continue to divide and multiply uncontrollably. This results in the development of a malignant tumor or other abnormalities that interfere with the functioning of the affected organ or tissue.

Cancer cells crowd out or destroy healthy cells and, if left untreated, can continue to multiply and spread to other tissues and organs of the body—a process called metastasis. As cancer progresses, it interferes with vital processes and functions of the organ where it began, and of the organs where it has spread, such as the brain, lungs, bones and liver.

There are two main types of cancer:

  • Primary cancer refers to a malignant tumor that originates within a specific body tissue, such as primary lung cancer or primary breast cancer.

  • Secondary cancer (metastatic cancer) is caused by a primary cancer that has begun in one tissue or organ of the body and spread to another site. For example, primary lung cancer or breast cancer can spread to the brain, causing secondary brain cancer. Cancer can metastasize by growing directly into nearby tissues and organs or by spreading through the circulatory system or lymphatic system to other areas of the body.

Cancer can lead to life-threatening complications and be fatal, especially if it goes undetected and untreated. Prognosis of cancer varies depending on the type of cancer and the stage of advancement; your age, medical history, and coexisting conditions or diseases; and other factors. Seeking regular medical care offers the best chances of discovering cancer in its earliest, most curable stage. If you have cancer, following your treatment plan may help reduce your risk of serious complications.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of cancer?

Symptoms of cancer vary depending on the specific type of cancer, its location, its stage of advancement, and other factors. For many cancers, there are no early symptoms. In some cases, symptoms do not appear until cancer has grown to an advanced stage and spread (metastasized) to other organs and tissues.

Cancer symptoms are caused by pressure from the enlarging tumor mass, eith... Read more about cancersymptoms

CAUSES

What causes cancer?

Cancer occurs when a genetic mutation causes old or damaged cells to continue to divide and multiply uncontrollably. The underlying cause of this varies depending on the specific type of cancer. In many cases, the underlying cause of cancer is not known.

Some causes of cancer include:

TREATMENTS

How is cancer treated?

Treatment of cancer begins with seeking regular medical care throughout your life. Regular medical care allows a health care professional to best provide early screening tests, such as mammography, Pap smears, digital rectal exams, and fecal occult blood tests. Regular medical care also provides an opportunity for your health care professional to evaluate symptoms and your risks of developing c... Read more about cancertreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 9, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

More Information on Cancer

This Article is Filed Under: Cancer, Breast Cancer