What is cancer?

Cancer is an abnormal growth of cells. Cancer cells rapidly reproduce despite restriction of space, nutrients shared by other cells, or signals sent from the body to stop reproduction. Cancer cells are often shaped differently from healthy cells, they do not function properly, and they can spread to many areas of the body. Tumors, abnormal growth of tissue, are clusters of cells that are capable of growing and dividing uncontrollably; their growth is not regulated.

Oncology is the branch of medicine concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

Basic Information About Cancer

What are the different categories of cancer?

Cancer is not just one disease but rather a group of diseases, all of which cause cells in the body to change and grow out of control. Cancers are classified either according to the kind of fluid or tissue from which they originate, or according to the location in the body where they first developed. In addition, some cancers are of mixed types. The following five broad categories indicate the tissue and blood classifications of cancer:

  • Carcinoma
    A carcinoma is a cancer found in body tissue known as epithelial tissue that covers or lines surfaces of organs, glands, or body structures. For example, a cancer of the lining of the stomach is called a carcinoma. Many carcinomas affect organs or glands that are involved with secretion, such as breasts that produce milk. Carcinomas account for 80 percent to 90 percent of all cancer cases.

  • Sarcoma
    A sarcoma is a malignant tumor growing from connective tissues, such as cartilage, fat, muscle, tendons, and bones. The most common sarcoma, a tumor on the bone, usually occurs in young adults. Examples of sarcoma include osteosarcoma (bone) and chondrosarcoma (cartilage).

  • Lymphoma
    Lymphoma refers to a cancer that originates in the nodes or glands of the lymphatic system, whose job it is to produce white blood cells and clean body fluids, or in organs such as the brain and breast. Lymphomas are classified into two categories: Hodgkin's lymphoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

  • Leukemia
    Leukemia, also known as blood cancer, is a cancer of the bone marrow that keeps the marrow from producing normal red and white blood cells and platelets. White blood cells are needed to resist infection. Red blood cells are needed to prevent anemia. Platelets keep the body from easily bruising and bleeding. Examples of leukemia include acute myelogenous leukemia, chronic myelogenous leukemia, acute lymphocytic leukemia, and chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The terms myelogenous and lymphocytic indicate the type of cells that are involved.

  • Myeloma
    Myeloma grows in the plasma cells of bone marrow. In some cases, the myeloma cells collect in one bone and form a single tumor, called a plasmacytoma. However, in other cases, the myeloma cells collect in many bones, forming many bone tumors. This is called multiple myeloma.
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