Cancer: The Basics

All cells in the body (skin, bone, nerve, etc.) grow and divide in a controlled way in order to sustain health. When cells become old or damaged, they die and are replaced by new cells.

But sometimes this orderly process goes awry. The genetic material of a cell can change or become damaged, leading to mutations that affect normal cell growth and division. When this happens, cells do not die when they should and new cells form when the body does not need them. Consequently, the growth of cells is no longer a controlled event. This is the defining feature of cancer.

The extra cells then form a mass of tissue called a tumor. A tumor may be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body through the blood and the lymphatic system. This is called metastasis.

Cancer is not just one disease but many diseases. There are more than 100 different types of cancer. Most cancers are named for the organ or type of cell in which they start – for example, cancer that begins in the colon is called colon cancer; cancer that begins in the breast is called breast cancer. If the cancer spreads to another site it is still called the name of its origin – for example, breast cancer that spread to the liver is called metastatic breast cancer.

Undergoing treatment for any type of cancer can be a daunting and terrifying experience. Understanding the terminology, procedures, chemotherapy protocols, prescribed drugs, and the countless other things related to cancer treatment can be confusing and overwhelming. That’s where the physicians of Southern California Oncology Associates can help. Trained in top medical schools around the world, this network of oncologists works to provide the patients with professional services, anti-neoplastic therapies and supportive care therapies.

For more information about cancer basics and treatment guidelines, please visit:

National Comprehensive Cancer Network® (NCCN®) – NCCN Guidelines for Patients®.


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