|photo courtesy of times, uk|
Cancer, at it's most basic, is the term we use when a single cell in our body starts dividing rapidly and invading nearby tissues.
Generally that single cell is larger and starts replicating out of control and forms a clump of cells we call a tumor. Then, usually through the blood and lymphatic system, those cells are transported and invade other areas of the body.
|photo courtesy of cancerhelpUK|
Most cancers are named for the organ or type of cell that started the abnormal growth and division: for example, cancer that begins in the colon is called colon cancer; cancer that begins in the lung is lung cancer, etc. So if cancer originates in, say, the lung...then travels to the liver....it's STILL considered lung cancer...but once it's traveled to another organ or part of the body, we say that it's "metastasized".
So the word "cancer" really covers many different diseases. At this time, scientists have cataloged more than 100 different types of cancer.
In addition to it's specific cell type, cancer's are also referred to by their "group type"
- Carcinoma - cancer that begins in the skin or in tissues that line or cover internal organs.
- Sarcoma - cancer that begins in bone, cartilage, fat, muscle, blood vessels, or other connective or supportive tissue.
- Leukemia - cancer that starts in blood-forming tissue such as the bone marrow.
- Lymphoma and myeloma - cancers that begin in the cells of the immune system.
- Central nervous system cancers - cancers that begin in the tissues of the brain and spinal cord.
The measure of "spread" of a cancer is known as it's "stage". Usually:
- stage 0 is in situ cancer; only the original cell types have been involved and there's no spread to any other cell "types"
- stage 1 is localized cancer; the same organ, for example, but pushing through various layers of tissue.
- stage 2 usually includes spread to the nearest lymph nodes;
- stage 3 usually indicates more extensive lymph node involvement
- stage 4 always indicates distant spread.
Cancer treatment is rapidly evolving and the current treatment options and alternatives are, not only beyond the scope of this article, but anything we could write would be obsolete by next week.
Please note, though, that all tumors are not, necessarily, cancerous. A "benign" tumor is a clump of cells that AREN'T showing rapid or abnormal growth, spreading to different parts of the body, etc.