A basic overview

Essentially, all forms of cancer are an overgrowth of abnormal cells. The human body is made up of a vast number of cells that grow, divide to make new cells, and then die. New cells take the place of old or dying cells, or those that might be damaged. The process happens constantly and is regulated in our bodies without our ever knowing.

If you imagine all cells as different instruments in an orchestra, DNA or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the “Conductor” in each cell that tells it what to play or do. DNA will signal the cell to repair itself if it’s damaged and continue to play, or it may tell the cell to die and be silent.

Cancer cells however, grow out of control and don’t die. Their DNA has become damaged and can’t be repaired, so as the cell Conductor, it can no longer direct the cell’s orchestral performance. As cancer cells reproduce, they pass along the damaged DNA and these cells can push into tissue or other places beyond where the abnormal cancer cell originated.

In most cases, the cancer cells mass together and form a tumor. Common cancers associated with a tumor mass are breast, colon, and lung, among others. However, not all tumors are cancer. Tumors (or a mass of abnormal cells) that are not cancerous are referred to as “benign”.

When cancer cells travel to other parts of the body through blood or by filtering through lymph nodes and form new masses, they have “metastasized”, and would be called metastatic breast cancer or metastatic colon cancer in the examples above. In some situations, the cancer cells form in the blood or bone marrow but don’t result in a tumor. Leukemia is one of these types of cancer.

There are many types of cancer, over a 100 we know of today, each behaving differently from the other. This is why it’s critical that your cancer is correctly diagnosed or identified by a pathologist (a doctor that studies the causes, processes and effects of a disease under a microscope or through other instruments) and managed by an oncologist (a doctor that specializes in treating cancer).

These professionals ensure that everything about your current health condition, age, sex, prior illnesses, and even your race, are taken into consideration in getting answers about your cancer.

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