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What is cancer?

The body is made of many types of cells. These cells grow, divide to produce more cells and then die when they become damaged or old.  New cells are then produced.  If the genetic material of a cell becomes damaged or changed then cells may not die and divide in an uncontrolled manner and new cells form that are not needed by the body.  The extra cells may form a mass (tumor) that is called cancer.

There are many cancer types:

  • Carcinoma is a cancer that begins in the skin or in tissues of organs as breast, lung or colon cancer.
  • Melanoma is a specific skin cancer. Sarcoma is a cancer that involves bone, cartilage, fat, muscle or vessels.
  • Leukemia is a cancer that develops in the bone marrow and then enters the blood.
  • Lymphoma and myeloma begin in the cells of the immune system.
  • Central nervous system cancers begin in the brain and spinal cord.

Not all abnormal growing cells are cancerous, as some abnormal tumors can be benign.  Benign tumors may be removed and may not come back. If one is diagnosed with cancer, then he or she is typically evaluated by doctors who specialize in the treatment of cancers, which may include a hematologist/oncologist, surgeon and radiation oncologist. Cancer cells that grow may spread from one part of the body to another through blood and lymph vessels.  This is called metastasis.  In order to determine if there is metastasis, special studies that may include blood work and special scans will need to be performed.  This allows for the disease to be staged.

Treatment of cancer is based on how advanced the cancer is at the time of diagnosis, i.e. whether or not the cancer is confined to the organ of origin or has spread to other organs. Reports show that rates of death in the United States from all cancers for men and women, from 2003 to 2007, have continued to fall. For 2011, there were an estimated 1,596,670 of new cases and 571,950 deaths.

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