Can you tell me more about the basics of cancer?

Cancers can begin in any cells that make up tissues and organs in the body. Normal cells grow and die in a controlled way. When cells grow old, they die and new cells take their place. Sometimes cells keep growing even though the body doesn’t need them, and sometimes cells will not die when they are supposed to die. These conditions can cause an abnormal growth that is more commonly known as a tumor.

If the tumor does not invade tissues or a part of the body, it is considered benign, meaning it is non-cancerous. If the tumor does invade tissues or a part of the body, it is cancerous.

Cancer is named for the place in the body where it originated. It can spread to nearby tissues and organs and also can be transported throughout the body in blood vessels and lymph (fluid that drains waste from cells) channels.

If the cancer spreads, or metastasizes, it is still considered the cancer of origin. For example, a person may have colon cancer but it spreads to the liver. The cancer in the liver is still considered colon cancer because it is the colon cancer cells that traveled to the liver. Another example would be if a person originally is diagnosed with breast cancer and the cancer travels to that person’s bones. It would not be considered bone cancer but still considered breast cancer, because it was the breast cancer cells that traveled to the bone.

No one knows why some cells become cancerous and others do not. Some answers can be found in chromosomes, which are genetic materials in cells that control cell growth. When changes occur in genetic materials, cancer can develop. Changes in genetic material can be hereditary or due to outside elements, such as infections, drugs, tobacco, chemicals, obesity or excessive alcohol and sunlight. Often these are referred to as risk factors; however, not everyone with risk factors will develop cancer.

For information contact Courtney Britton, librarian at Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge at (225) 927-2273, cbritton@cancerservices.org, or visit the Education Center at 550 Lobdell Ave., Baton Rouge.

ä Internet Resources:

What You Need To Know About Cancer — National Cancer Institute

cancer.gov/cancertopics/cancerlibrary/what-is-cancer

This column is presented as a service by Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge, a United Way affiliate.