What Is Cancer?

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Tumor Grade Cancer

Cancer develops when cells start growing without control and spread into surrounding tissues. This can happen in any type of cell in any organ. Cells normally grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them, and when cells become old or damaged they die. In cancer cells this mechanism gets impaired and cells continue to grow even when they should die or when they are damaged. The resultant tumor becomes malignant, and called cancer, when these abnormal cells start to grow into surrounding tissue. Eventually, some cells will acquire the ability to travel to distant places in the body and form new tumors at these locations.  Once a cancer diagnosis is made the extent of the disease must be assessed. This is called staging. Typically stage I cancers are small and localized, stage II ones are larger but still localized. Stage III cancer has moved to lymph nodes, whereas stage IV disease means disease in distant organs. This is called metastatic cancer. Staging determines treatment options. Stage I cancer is usually curable with surgery, while the treatment of choice for stage IV cancer is systemic chemotherapy.

Peter Acs, MD, PhD – Medical Oncologist

Updated 4:30 PM ET, Monday April 23, 2018

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