What is Cancer?

Pink Breast Cancer Awareness Ribbon

Cancer is a very common disease, striking more than 1.5 million Americans each year. The term cancer actually encompasses many different diseases.

Cancer develops when cells in your body no longer act like they should. Your body is made of trillions of cells. Different kinds of cells make different organs and tissues: your skin, lungs, bones, blood, and so forth. Cells eventually wear out or become damaged and need to be replaced by fresh cells. DNA in cells guides this process.

Sometimes the DNA in cells develops mutations. As a result, the cells may refuse to die according to schedule. These abnormal cells can develop into cancerous tumors in tissues and organs. (Your body can also develop noncancerous growths that are called benign tumors, which don’t typically pose as serious a threat to your health). Cancer can also involve cells in your blood, such as the type of cancer called leukemia.

The growing cancer can prevent the tissue or organ from working properly. Cancer also poses a concern beyond the original growth. Cancerous cells can invade other parts of your body, both near and far, through your bloodstream or your lymphatic system. The new growths that develop in other organs can cause more health problems. However, even after cancer has spread to other body parts, it’s still named after the body part where it began, such as prostate cancer.

Doctors detect cancer in people at different stages of development. In some cases, your doctor may even find and remove abnormal cells before they become cancerous (such as the polyps that can turn into colon cancer, or cells that can become cervical cancer).  Cancers are classified by how large they’ve grown or how far they’ve spread. In many cases, doctors define cancer by its stage, from stage zero to four, with higher numbers referring to more advanced cancers.

Staging the cancer helps your doctor determine the best way to treat the disease and predict the outcome of your case. Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy are often used to treat cancer, but experts are continually discovering new drugs and high-tech devices that may further improve your chances of surviving – and thriving – after cancer.   

West Hills Hospital & Medical Center offers the latest advances in state-of-the-art cancer treatment . Our highly trained physicians and other providers diagnose and treat cancer in a caring, convenient setting. To learn more about our cancer treatment services, call (818) 676-4000. 

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