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Cancer 101 - What Is Cancer?


If you or a family member/friend has just been diagnosed with breast cancer, lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer or one of the many other cancers that are diagnosed each year, this section will give you a general understanding of cancer.

“Cancer is a term for diseases in which your normal cells become abnormal and divide without stopping, sometimes invading other tissues. Cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems.” – National Cancer Institute (NCI)

People often think of the word 'cancer' as describing a single disease with a single cause, like 'strep throat' or 'HIV'.

This is slightly misleading.

Cancer is the name given to any illness resulting from one of our body's own cells growing out of control.


Different kinds of cancer:

Cancer is not just one disease but many diseases. There are more than 100 different types of cancer.

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The main categories of cancer include:

  • Carcinoma - cancer that begins in the skin or in tissues that line or cover internal organs. This is often called epithelial tissue.

Examples: Bladder, Brain, Breast, Cervical, Colorectal, Endometrial, Kidney (Renal), Lung, Melanoma (skin), Ovarian, Pancreatic, Prostate and Thyroid.

  • Sarcoma - cancer that begins in bone, cartilage, fat, muscle, blood vessels, or other connective or supportive tissue.

  • Leukemia - cancer that starts in blood-forming tissue such as the bone marrow, causing large numbers of abnormal blood cells to be produced and enter the bloodstream.

  • Lymphoma and Myeloma - cancers that begin in the cells of the immune system.

  • Central nervous system cancers - cancers that begin in the tissues of the brain and spinal cord.

As you can see from the categories above, cancers are typically named after the type of tissue involved. They are also named after the organ in which they begin (breast, prostate, brain).


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