What is cancer?

Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells anywhere in a body. The abnormal cells are termed cancer cells, malignant cells, or tumor cells. Many cancers and the abnormal cells that compose the cancer tissue are further identified by the name of the tissue that the abnormal cells originated from (for example, breast cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer). Cancer is not confined to humans; animals and other living organisms can get cancer. Below is a schematic that shows normal cell division and how when a cell is damaged or altered without repair to its system, the cell usually dies. Also shown is what can occur when such damaged or unrepaired cells do not die and become cancer cells and proliferate with uncontrolled growth; a mass of cancer cells develop. Frequently, cancer cells can break away from this original mass of cells, travel through the blood and lymph systems, and lodge in other organs where they can again repeat the uncontrolled growth cycle. This process of cancer cells leaving an area and growing in another body area is termed metastatic spread or metastatic disease. For example, if breast cancer cells spread to a bone (or anywhere else), it means that the individual has metastatic breast cancer. 


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