What is Cancer?

What is Cancer?

Cancer comes in a variety of forms. Basically, cancer occurs when cells in the body begin to grow chaotically. Normally, cells grow, divide, and produce more cells to keep the body healthy and functioning properly. Sometimes, however, the process goes astray; cells keep dividing when new cells are not needed. Some types of cells are more prone to abnormal growth than others. The mass of extra cells forms a growth or tumor, which can be benign or malignant.

Benign tumors are not cancer. They often can be removed and, in most cases, they do not come back. Cells in benign tumors do not spread to other parts of the body. More importantly, benign tumors are rarely life threatening.

Malignant tumors are cancer. Cells in malignant tumors are abnormal and divide without control or order. These cancer cells can invade and destroy the tissue around them. In a process called metastasis, cancerous cells break away from the organs on which they are growing and travel to other parts of the body, where they continue to grow. Cells from cancerous ovaries, for example, commonly spread to the abdomen and nearby internal organs. Eventually, they can invade the bloodstream and lymph system (the two systems of vessels that bathe and feed all of the body's organs) and travel to organs throughout the body. Metastasis is how cancer “colonizes” to produce new tumors within the body.

Approximately 1,372,910 new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed in 2005. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 570,280 Americans are expected to die of cancer this year, more than 1,560 people per day.

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