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Q: What is cancer?

Dr. Donnica:
Cancer is a group of diseases that occur when cells become abnormal and divide without control or order. Each organ in the body is made up of various kinds of cells. Cells normally divide in an orderly way to produce more cells only when they are needed. This process helps keep the body healthy. If cells divide when new cells are not needed, they form too much tissue. This extra tissue, called a tumor, can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancer). This can happen just about anywhere in the body. Eighty percent of all breast tumors, for example, are benign.

Just because benign tumors are not cancer doesn't mean that they can't cause problems, depending usually on their size and location. Benign tumors can often be removed if they are problemmatic; in most cases, they don't come back. Most important, the cells in benign tumors do not invade other tissues and do not spread to other parts of the body. Benign breast tumors, for example, are not a threat to life and usually do not have to be removed.

In malignant tumors, the cancer cells grow and divide out of control, invading and damaging nearby tissues and organs. Cancer cells can also break away from the original tumor and enter the bloodstream or lymphatic system. This is how cancer spreads and forms secondary tumors in other parts of the body. This spread of cancer is called metastasis. The prognosis for metastatic cancer is generally much worse than that for cancer which has not spread. This is why we always try to diagnose a cancer as early as possible.

Created: 10/7/2000  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

 Eighty percent of all breast tumors are benign.  

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