What is cancer? ~ Health Guide

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What is cancer?

Written by Mystic on Monday, August 04, 2008

Cancer is a disease of cells, the building blocks of the body. Normally, all cells divide and reproduce themselves in an orderly and controlled manner, allowing your body to grow and to heal after an injury. In cancer, the process gets out of control and abnormal cells may multiply to form a lump or tumour. The growth of this primary tumour can damage other tissues and interfere with the normal function of the body.

Cancer cells are malignant and can break away from a tumour and spread to other parts of the body via the bloodstream or lymphatic system. If they settle and produce new tumours, these are called secondary growths or metastases.

Benign tumours do not behave the same way as cancer cellsbut also need medical attention. The word 'cancer' can also be used when cells multiply abnormally but don't form a lump or tumour. This happens when the blood-forming cells are affected, producing leukaemia. Many cancers can be successfully treated, especially if detected early.

The main methods for treating cancer are:

  • surgery - removing the cancer from the body;
  • radiotherapy - using high energy radiation to destroy cancer cells;
  • chemotherapy - using drugs to kill cancer cells;
  • adjuvant treatments - a combination of any of the above.

Chemotherapy may be used together with surgery and radiotherapy as a precautionary treatment in case some cancer cells remain in the body. Chemotherapy is the primary treatment for some cancers, such as those of the blood forming organs and is also used if there has been spread of a cancer to other parts of the body.

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