Pathology

A General Explanation of how Cancer Cells Work



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The human body is made up of trillion of cells.  These cells follow a life cycle in which they grow, reproduce, and eventually die. Cancer cells do not follow this normal pattern.  Instead of dying when they become damaged, cancer cells continue to grow and multiply, and they can invade the surrounding tissue. Normal cells are not able to do this.  It is this ability that distinguishes cancer cells from other cells.

Cancer is the name given to over 100 different diseases.  Cells become cancerous when their DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is damaged. These cells usually clump together to form tumors. Not all tumors are cancerous.  Non-cancerous tumors are called benign.  Benign tumors can grow and press on organs and tissues, but they cannot invade other body tissues like cancerous tumors can. Cancerous tumors are called malignant.

Cancer cells can break away from the original tumor and get into to bloodstream or lymphatic vessels.  They then metastasis (spread) to other organs. Cancer cells are named for the part of the body in which they start.  It does not matter where they spread to, they will always be named for their point of origin. Cancer cells that start in the stomach will be called stomach cancer even if it invades the colon. 

What are the symptoms of cancer?  They vary.  Different types of cancer behave differently.  However, there are some signs that should give rise to concern.  They are sudden, unexplained weight loss, skin changes such as an abnormal mole or changes in pigmentation, persistent cough, rectal bleeding, coughing up blood, difficulty swallowing, or unexplained fatigue. 

Cancer is not passed from person to person through simple contact.  It is not like a cold or the flu.  Cancer cells can be passed down from parent to offspring.  Because cancer starts with an abnormality in a person’s DNA, the damaged DNA can be inherited.  Only 5% to 10% of cancer is inherited. Doctors try to obtain a good medical history to see if they have a predisposition to certain illnesses such as cancer.

What is the initial cause of cancer? Other than genes, there are carcinogens that can damage DNA.  Tobacco usage, radiation, alcohol, and over-exposure to the sun are a few of the carcinogens that can damage the normal DNA of cells. 

Cancer cells are abnormal cells that have defective DNA, and instead of dying, these cells continue to grow, multiply, and invade surrounding tissue.  Cancer cells can cause illness and/or death.

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ARTICLE SOURCES AND CITATIONS
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancerbasics/what-is-cancer
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancerbasics/what-is-cancer
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://kidshealth.org/kid/cancer_center/cancer_basics/cancer.html
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://kidshealth.org/kid/cancer_center/cancer_basics/cancer.html
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://kidshealth.org/kid/cancer_center/cancer_basics/cancer.html
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancerbasics/what-is-cancer