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What is Cancer and What Do You Know About it

Updated on April 27, 2015

Cancer is a Scary Word

Almost everyone in this world is aware of the word “cancer”. For most people this word implies fear, pain, and death. However, although most of us have used this word in our conversation, not many of us are actually aware of what it is exactly. This hub is an attempt to explain what cancer is and how it develops in the human body.

A - normal cell division, B - cancer cell division; 1 - apoptosis; 2 - damaged cell. From the National Cancer Institute.
A - normal cell division, B - cancer cell division; 1 - apoptosis; 2 - damaged cell. From the National Cancer Institute. | Source

Cancer begins in cells

The first thing we need to understand is that our body is made up of many types of cells. Cells are the basic unit of life and they are constantly growing, dividing, and dying. This process is necessary for our body to grow and for it to keep healthy.

In our growing years, these cells divide much faster which helps our body to grow. But when we become adults, these cells will mostly divide to replace old and dying cells or to repair any injuries which might have occurred.

So, where does cancer begin? In short, cancer begins in these very cells that are the basic unit of life.

Take a look at the diagram on the side to understand the difference between normal cell division and cancer cell division.

Cancer cells are different from normal cells

The process of cells dying and being replaced by new ones is normal. However, cancer cells are different from normal cells. Now, let's take a look at how cancerous cells are different from normal cells.

A normal cell becomes cancerous when the genetic material or DNA present in it gets damaged. In such a case, the cell is unable to repair it, and instead of dying it continues to grow and divide. The body does not need these cells and all the new cells have the same damaged genetic material as the first cell.

Learn more about cancer in this animation movie

Cancer cells mostly form a tumor

When damaged cells keep on multiplying, the result is usually a mass or growth or a tumor. These tumors can either be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

The cells present in malignant tumors can invade the neighboring tissues and organs. These cancer cells can also enter the bloodstream or lymph vessels of the body and spread to other parts. This process is called metastasis.

Learn more about cancer in these books

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Most cancers develop in this way

Most of the cancers known to us develop in the manner mentioned above. However, some cancers such as leukemia (which involves the blood and blood-forming organs) may or may not form tumors.

Cancers get their name from the organ or type of cells of the body where they originate. All types of cancers are different. They grow differently. And they all require different treatments.

Sometimes people can inherit cells with damaged DNA. But mostly, cancers are caused due to something in our environment. Often there is no known cause.

Whatever may be the reason for cancer, the fact is that it is one of the leading causes of death around the world. Early diagnosis and regular treatment can help kill the cancerous cells, control their further growth, and save a person’s life.

So, go for regular health checkups to ensure that you catch this disease at its earliest stage. The earlier the stage of the disease, the better are the chances of survival and the lower are the rates of recurrence.

Do you go for regular health checkups?

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National Cancer Institute

American Cancer Society


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