The following is provided by the National Cancer Institute
Cancer is a term for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and can invade other tissues. Cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems.
Cancer is not just one disease but many diseases. There are more than 100 different types of cancer. The main categories of cancer include:
Carcinoma begins in the skin or in tissues that line or cover internal organs.
Sarcoma begins in bone, cartilage, fat, muscle, blood vessels or other connective or supportive tissue.
Leukemia starts in blood-forming tissue such as the bone marrow and causes large numbers of abnormal blood cells to be produced and enter the blood.
Lymphoma and myeloma begin in the cells of the immune system.
Central nervous system cancers start in the tissues of the brain and spinal cord.
All cancers begin in cells, the body's basic unit of life. To understand cancer, it's helpful to know what happens when normal cells become cancer cells. The body is made up of many types of cells. These cells grow and divide in a controlled way to produce more cells as they are needed to keep the body healthy. When cells become old or damaged, they die and are replaced with new cells.
But sometimes this orderly process goes wrong. The genetic material, DNA, of a cell can become damaged or changed, producing mutations that affect normal cell growth and division. When this happens, cells do not die when they should and new cells form when the body does not need them. The extra cells may form a mass of tissue called a tumor. Not all tumors are cancerous; tumors can be benign or malignant.
Benign tumors aren't cancerous. They can often be removed, and, in most cases, they do not come back. Cells in benign tumors do not spread to other parts of the body.
Malignant tumors are cancerous. Cells in these tumors can invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body. The spread of cancer from one part of the body to another is called metastasis.
Most cancers are named for the organ or type of cell in which they begin. For example, cancer that begins in the stomach is called stomach cancer. Some cancers do not form tumors. For example, leukemia is a cancer of the bone marrow and blood.
The latest Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer shows that Americans' risk of dying from cancer continues to drop, maintaining a trend that began in the early 1990s. However, the rate of new cancers remains stable. An estimated 1.4 million people will have been diagnosed with cancer during 2007.
For a detailed glossary of cancer terms, go to www.cancer.gov/dictionary.
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