An immune system macrophage
(a specialized white cell), attacks
a migrating cancer cell.
What is cancer?
The simple definition is that cancer
is the result of a single damaged cell that has become wild and aggressive.
In all living organisms, cells die and new ones are born to take their place.
The main characteristic that sets cancer cells apart is that cancer cells are anti-social and refuse to follow the normal pattern of functional decline.
How cancer grows
Worse yet -- a cancerous cell that refuses to die will begin making copies of itself -- to produce a "zombie army" of destructive behavior.
If this was a 1950's thriller, the cancer story might be entitled "The Cells That Forgot to Die!"
As they multiply and grow, cancer cells steal nourishment from other normal cells around it. In order to survive and continue to grow, the cancer starves
normal, healthy cells. The normal cells stop functioning and in their place the renegade cancer cells continue to multiply.
When cancer spreads from where it first started it is called a metastasis - (in medical slang, "mets".)
Some cancers grow so fast -- or so large -- that they need even more nourishment. The growth or tumor sends single cancer cells into the bloodstream to look for new places to root and grow.
How cancer is diagnosed
The cells in each organ in the human body are specialized. Even if cells do become cancerous, and spread to other parts of the body, all of the copies of the original cancer cell keep the characteristics and behaviors of that one parent cell. Cancer cells that start in the breast, for example, are renegade breast cancer cells even if they move to the brain or
A biopsy is the test that determines whether a tumor is cancerous - and if it is - where the cancer got started.
Why it's important to know where cancer begins
Today, cancer researchers and
medical teams can be likened
to modern day zombie hunters.
While your body's immune system remains an effective defense against cancer sometimes growth can appear so suddenly and so fast that natural defenses are overwhelmed.
Different cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation, work better on some cancer cells than on others.
For example, there are treatments tailored to work specifically against prostate, lung, breast, brain and many other cancers.
The best treatment for one type of cancer may not be the best choice to beat a different type. So -- by knowing where a cancer originally began doctors have a better chance of picking the right course of treatment to hunt it down and stop it.
Just up ahead, find out more about some of the most common causes of cancer with information on possible causes, symptoms and treatment options.
There was a time when a cancer diagnosis meant preparing to die.
Now it means preparing to fight ...
Elsewhere on the Web, find out more about the cancer battle at expert sites offering more on current research, diagnosis, drug therapies, surgeries, new clinical trials, and patient support ...
American Cancer Society - One of the leaders in raising funds for research and treatment, the ACS site is a good place to start gathering information on this disease.
Cancer Institute - NCI is a great resource. From the simplest questions to the most complicated procedures... information
on drugs, clinical trials - you name it - it's here.
Macmillan Cancer Support - UK site with more than lots of good information, an online support group, blog posts, and a free phone hotline for those in the UK.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) - This agency is part of the World Health Organization (WHO). It is definitely geared to the health care researcher or professional, but the database entries may interest anyone who is able to translate 'scientific-speak.' The research units give detailed information on current topics and contact information to enable you to learn more.
is intended as reference and not as medical advice.
All treatment decisions should be made by medical professionals.