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What is Cancer?

The term cancer refers to a group of diseases. Although there are over 100 different types of cancer, all cancers are characterised by abnormal cell growth. If left untreated, this disease can lead to death.

How Cancer Starts:
Your body is made up of trillions of living cells. Within each cell are genes that control and direct the cell’s functions. Normal cells continuously grow and divide. Over time, they die and are replaced by new ones.

In most people, this natural cell replacement occurs in an orderly and organised manner. However, this process sometimes breaks down. Unlike normal healthy cells, cancer cells do not die. Instead, they continue to grow and divide in an uncontrollable manner. These defective cells may form a mass of tissue called a tumour.

What Are Tumours:
Tumours can be benign or malignant. Tumours that stay in one location and do not spread to other parts of the body are considered to be benign. These are not cancerous and are rarely life-threatening although they can sometimes cause problems, especially when they grow too big.

On the other hand, malignant tumours can destroy and invade other normal tissues in your body, making you very sick. However, not all types of cancer form tumours. For instance, tumours are uncommon in leukaemia. These are cancers that typically start in the bone marrow and enter the bloodstream.

When Cancer Spreads:
Cancer cells can spread when they migrate to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems, forming new tumours. This process is called metastasis. Even when cancer spreads, it is always named based on where it first occurred. For instance, cancer that begins in the breast is called breast cancer. If it spreads to other parts of the body, like the liver or bone, it is called metastatic breast cancer.

With so many different cancers, it is important for you to know which type of cancer you have so that you can receive the right treatment.