What is cancer?
Cancer is a group of more than 100 different diseases. Cancer occurs when cells become abnormal and keep dividing and forming more cells without order or control. All organs of the body are made up of cells. Normally, cells divide to produce more cells only when the body needs them. If cells divide when new ones are not needed, they form a mass of excess tissue called a tumor. Tumors can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer). The cells in malignant tumors can invade and damage nearby tissues and organs. Cancer cells can also break away from a malignant tumor and travel through the bloodstream or the lymphatic system to form new tumors in other parts of the body. The spread of cancer is called metastasis.
What are the signs and symptoms of cancer?
Cancer often causes symptoms that you can watch for. The word "caution" can remind you of the most common warning signs of cancer:
These symptoms are not always warning signs of cancer. They can also be caused byless serious conditions. It is important to see a doctor if you have any of these symptoms. Only a doctor can make a diagnosis. Don’t wait to feel pain: Early cancer usually does not cause pain. A biopsy is the only sure way to know whether a medical problem is cancer. In a biopsy, the doctor removes a sample of tissue. The tissue is examined under a microscope to check for cancer cells.
How is cancer treated?
Cancer is treated with surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or biological therapy. The doctor may use one method or a combination of methods. The choice of treatment depends on the type and location of the cancer, whether the disease has spread, the patient’s age and general health, and other factors. Many cancer patients take part in clinical trials (research studies) testing new treatment methods. Such studies are designed to improve cancer treatment.
Can cancer be prevented?
Many cases of cancer can be prevented by not using tobacco products, avoiding the harmful rays of the sun, and choosing foods with less fat and more fiber. In addition, regular checkups and self-exams can reveal cancer at an early stage when treatment is likely to be effective.