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A Quick Guide to Cancer Basics

Understanding the basics of cancer can help you get a handle on the diagnosis. Defined simply, cancer is the abnormal growth of cells. There are five basic types; however, there is variety in where this cell growth occurs, whether it will form a tumor, and how it is staged and graded. Once all this has been determined, a tailored treatment plan can be developed. No one is immune to this disease, but survival rates are improving.


Cancer 101

Looking for the basic ins and outs of cancer? You've come to the right place! It can be incredibly difficult and terrifying to try to wrap your head around what cancer is and how it might affect you, but it can help to start with the basics. The more of an understanding you have about what cancer is and what's involved can help empower you to make the most informed decisions about your treatment and care.
Many people may think of cancer as just one disease. However, there are more than 100 different types of cancer. In its most basic definition, cancer is a disease that occurs when abnormal cells divide without control and have the ability to invade other tissues. The name of the cancer is usually based on where it started. For example, cancer that begins in the lungs is called lung cancer. Even when it has spread to other parts of the body, it's still lung cancer.
So now that we know what cancer is, let's take a closer look at how it starts.

How Does Cancer Form?

Although cancer can form in just about any tissue in the body, the basic processes that produce it are similar in all the various forms of the disease. All forms of cancer start in cells, which are the basic unit of life. The body is made up of a variety of different types of cells, which usually grow and divide in a controlled manner to produce additional cells that the body needs to stay healthy. Once a cell becomes old or damaged, it dies and is replaced with a new cell.
However, this normal process of cell formation can sometimes go wrong. When this happens, the genetic material (DNA) of a cell can change or become damaged. This causes a mutation that affects the normal cell growth and division process. When these cells mutate, certain cells do not die when they should and new cells form even though the body does not need them. This creates extra cells, which can form a mass of tissue called a tumor.
Just because a tumor is formed, however, it does not mean that it is cancerous. There are two general types of tumors: benign (noncancerous) and malignant (cancerous). Benign tumors can be removed and they will not spread to other areas of the body. However, malignant tumors can invade nearby tissues and spread to other areas of the body through a process known as metastasis (see Understanding Metastatic Cancer).
Tumors can be life threatening when their growth causes damage to the tissues and organs the body needs to survive. In addition, some cancers don't form tumors, such as leukemia, which is a cancer of the bone marrow and blood.
After extensive research, studies are still being done to determine what causes cancer and how to cure it. We know that chemicals, radiation, and viruses are some of the triggers that cause a cell to become cancerous, but it is still unknown exactly how this happens. Recent studies have helped researchers to focus on certain molecular and genetic reasons that cancer may develop. These findings are resulting in new treatments for preventing, treating, and even curing this disease.
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