Cancer is a disease that starts in our cells. Our bodies are made up of millions of cells, grouped together to form tissues and organs such as muscles and bones, the lungs and the liver. Genes inside each cell order it to grow, work, reproduce and die. Normally, our cells obey these orders and we remain healthy. But sometimes the instructions get mixed up, causing the cells to form lumps or tumours, or spread through the bloodstream and lymphatic system to other parts of the body.
Tumours can be either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Benign tumour cells stay in one place in the body and are not usually life-threatening.
Malignant tumour cells are able to invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body. Cancer cells that spread to other parts of the body are called metastases.
The first sign that a malignant tumour has spread (metastasized) is often swelling of nearby lymph nodes, but cancer can metastasize to almost any part of the body. It is important to find malignant tumours as early as possible.
Cancers are named after the part of the body where they start. For example, cancer that starts in the bladder but spreads to the lung is called bladder cancer with lung metastases.
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Bladder cancer starts in the cells of the bladder. The bladder is in the lower part of the abdomen. It is a hollow, balloon-shaped organ with a flexible, muscular wall. The bladder is part of the urinary system. Urine is made by the kidneys. It is then passed to the bladder through two tubes called ureters. When the bladder is full, the muscles in the bladder wall tighten to force the urine out of the bladder. The urine empties out of the bladder and passes out of the body through a tube called the urethra. Nearly all bladder cancers start in the lining of the bladder. Cancer that is only in the lining is called superficial bladder cancer. If the cancer spreads into the muscle wall of the bladder, it is called invasive bladder cancer.
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Bone cancer can either start in the cells of the bone (called primary bone cancer) or elsewhere in the body and spread to the bone (called secondary or metastatic bone cancer). There are three kinds of primary bone cancer:
Osteosarcoma is the most common--it starts in new tissue in growing bones, most often in the knee and upper arm areas then tends to spread to other parts of the body, specifically the lungs. This type of cancer is more common in children, teenagers and young adults
Chondrosarcoma begins in the cartilage around the bone, often in the pelvis, upper leg and shoulders--this form of cancer usually grows slowly and rarely spreads. It is more common in people over 40.
Ewing Sarcomas is the most aggressive and is most common in children, teenagers and young adults. It begins in the cavity of the bone, most frequently in the arm, leg, backbone or pelvis and can also occur in soft tissue. This type of bone cancer tends to develop quickly and spread to other parts of the body.
Secondary or metastatic bone cancer is cancer that has spread from the place where it first started to other places. Metastasis is the process of cancer spreading to other parts of the body. This type is more common than primary bone cancer. Secondary bone cancer is often the result of cancer spreading from the breast, prostate, kidney, lung or thyroid.
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Breast cancer starts in the cells of the breast. Breast tissue covers an area larger than just the breast. It extends up to the collarbone and from the armpit across to the breastbone in the centre of the chest. The breasts sit on the chest muscles that cover the ribs. Each breast is made of glands, ducts (thin tubes) and fatty tissue. Lobules are groups of glands that make milk. Fatty tissue fills the spaces between and protects the lobules and ducts. Milk flows from the lobules through a network of ducts to the nipple. The nipple is in the centre of a darker area of skin called the areola. A woman's breasts may feel different at different times of her menstrual cycle, sometimes becoming lumpy just before her period. Breast tissue also changes with age. Breast tissue in younger women is mostly made of glands and milk ducts. Older women's breasts are made up mostly of fatty tissue. The breasts also contain lymph vessels, which are part of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system helps fight infections. Lymph vessels move lymph fluid to the lymph nodes. Lymph nodes trap bacteria, cancer cells and other harmful substances. There are groups of lymph nodes under the arm, near the collarbone and in the chest behind the breastbone. Cancer can start in cells within the ducts (ductal carcinoma) or in the lobules (lobular carcinoma). Ductal carcinoma is the most common type of breast cancer.
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Cervical cancer starts in the cells of the cervix. The cervix is the narrow, lower part of the uterus (or womb). It is the passageway that connects the uterus to the vagina. The cervix is part of a woman's reproductive system. It makes mucus, which helps sperm move from the vagina into the uterus or stops sperm from entering the uterus. Every month during your menstrual period, the lining of the uterus is shed through the cervix into the vagina. During birth, the cervix opens (dilates) and the baby passes from the uterus to the vagina and out of the body. Before cervical cancer develops, the cells of the cervix start to change and become abnormal. These abnormal cells are precancerous, meaning they are not cancer. Precancerous changes to the cervix are called dysplasia of the cervix (or cervical dysplasia). Dysplasia of the cervix is a common precancerous change that can develop into cancer if it isn't treated. It is important to know that most women with dysplasia do not develop cancer.
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Leukemia is a cancer that starts in blood stem cells (immature blood cells) in the bone marrow. Bone marrow is the soft, spongy material that fills the centre of most bones.
Leukemia develops when the blood stem cells in the bone marrow make abnormal blood cells. These abnormal cells are called leukemia cells. Over time, the leukemia cells crowd out normal blood cells. This makes it hard for the white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets to do their jobs.
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Canadian Cancer Society
Most colorectal cancers start in cells that line the inside of the colon or the rectum. The colon and rectum make up the large intestine (large bowel). The large intestine is the last part of the digestive system. Organs of the digestive system break down food, absorb nutrients and help pass waste out of the body. For more information about colorectal cancer check out the following websites:
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Kidney cancer starts in cells of the kidney. The 2 kidneys are on either side of the backbone, deep inside the upper part of the abdomen and protected by the lower ribs. Attached to the top of each kidney is an adrenal gland. The kidneys make urine by filtering water and waste material from the blood. The ureter is a tube that carries urine from each kidney to the bladder. When the bladder is full, the urine passes out of the body through a tube called the urethra.
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Leukemia is a cancer that starts in blood stem cells (immature blood cells) in the bone marrow. Bone marrow is the soft, spongy material that fills the centre of most bones. Blood cells are made in the bone marrow. Blood stem cells develop into either myeloid stem cells or lymphoid stem cells.
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Primary lung cancer starts in the cells of the lung. You use your lungs when you breathe. The air you take in through your nose or mouth flows down the trachea (windpipe). The trachea divides into 2 tubes called the left and right bronchi, which carry air to each lung. Once inside the lung, the bronchi divide into smaller and smaller tubes called bronchioles. Each bronchiole ends in a cluster of tiny air sacs called alveoli. The alveoli take oxygen from the air you breathe in and pass it into the blood, which circulates it to all parts of your body. The alveoli also remove carbon dioxide from the blood, which is pushed out of the lungs when you exhale.
The 2 main types of lung cancer are:
- Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common type of lung cancer. It grows more slowly than small cell lung cancer.
- Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) grows quickly and often spreads to distant parts of the body.
Each type of lung cancer behaves quite differently, so they are treated differently. Cancer that starts in another part of the body and spreads to the lung (lung metastasis) is not the same disease as cancer that starts in the lung (primary lung cancer). Almost any type of cancer can spread to the lung.
A rare type of cancer called pleural mesothelioma is often mistakenly called a lung cancer. But pleural mesothelioma starts in the lining of the lung and is very different from cancer that starts in the lung.
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Melanoma Skin Cancer
Melanoma is a cancer that starts in the cells that produce melanin, called melanocytes. Most melanocytes are located in the skin; almost all melanomas are skin cancers. It occurs when a melanocyte grows uncontrollably and develops into a tumour. Melanoma is most frequently found on the back of men and on the back and legs of women. It is the least common, but most serious, type of skin cancer.
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Cancer can start in any organ or tissue in the body. A primary cancer or tumour is the first, original tumour that develops in the body. Metastatic cancer occurs when cancer spreads from its original location (primary tumour) to a new part of the body. Metastatic tumours always start from cancer cells in another part of the body.
Metastatic cancer may also be called:
- a secondary tumour or cancer
- metastasis (singular)
- metastases (plural)
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Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a cancer that starts in lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are cells of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system works with other parts of your immune system to help your body fight infection and disease.
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma develops when a lymphocyte, either a B cell or T cell, becomes abnormal. It can begin in almost any part of the body and can form tumours. It usually starts in a group of lymph nodes in one part of the body, most often the neck. Eventually, it can spread to almost any tissue or organ in the body through the lymphatic system or the bloodstream.
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Non Melanoma Skin Cancer
Skin cancer is often categorized into either melanoma or non melanoma. Non melanoma skin cancer occurs in either basal or squamous cells. These cells are located at the base of the outer layer of the skin or cover the internal and external surfaces of the body. Non melanoma skin cancer is the most common type of cancer. Most non melanoma skin cancers develop on sun exposed areas of the body, like the face, neck, and the backs of the hands.
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Prostate cancer starts in the cells of the prostate. The prostate is a walnut-sized gland just below the bladder and in front of the rectum. It surrounds part of the urethra, the tube that carries urine and semen through the penis.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in Canadian men. It usually grows slowly and can often be cured or managed successfully.
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Testicular cancer starts in the cells of a testicle. The testicles are part of a man's reproductive system. These 2 egg-shaped organs hang below the penis in a pouch of loose skin called the scrotum. The testicles are held in the scrotum by the spermatic cord. The spermatic cord contains the vas deferens, some lymph nodes, veins and nerves.
Testicles make male sex hormones (mostly testosterone) and sperm. Sperm cells are a type of reproductive cell (germ cell).
Most testicular cancers start in the germ cells and are called germ cell tumours. The 2 main types of germ cell tumours are seminomas and non-seminomas. Each type grows differently and is treated differently. Both types can be treated successfully.
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The uterus (or womb) is part of a woman's reproductive system. It is the hollow, muscular, pear-shaped organ where a fetus develops and grows. The lower part of the uterus is called the cervix. The cervix leads into the vagina.
The lining inside the uterus is called the endometrium. The endometrium is made up of tissue with many glands. Each month, it thickens and then is usually shed during your monthly menstrual period. Normally, your menstrual periods will happen each month, unless you are pregnant, until you reach menopause.
Uterine cancer that starts in the endometrium is called endometrial carcinoma. Most uterine cancers are endometrial carcinoma. Cancer that starts in the muscle layers of the uterus is called uterine sarcoma.
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