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What is Cancer?

Genesis CancerCare New South Wales treatment planning

Cancer is the name given to a group of diseases that involve uncontrolled multiplication of abnormal cells. This usually results in the cells growing in size, affecting the original and adjacent organs and often results in the spread of the cancer to other sites of the body.

Some growths (tumours) are benign while others are malignant. It is the malignant growths that are cancerous. Benign tumours do not spread but they may cause a lump or put pressure on parts of the body near the tumour. Benign tumours may also respond well to Radiation Therapy which you can find out more about here.

Primary and secondary tumours

Malignant tumours (cancer) are usually more active than benign tumours and tend to spread and invade other tissues. The original cancer site is called the primary tumour. If the cancer spreads to other organs or tissues, the cancerous areas are known as secondary tumours.

Malignant tumours may be 'solid' or 'liquid'. 'Liquid' cancers are those involving the blood, such as leukaemia. Solid tumours may arise from any organ. In Australia, the most common cancers are breast cancer, bowel cancer, and melanoma (skin cancer) in females. In males, prostate cancer is the most common, followed by bowel cancer then melanoma (skin cancer).

The best type of treatment for cancer depends on a number of factors, such as:

  • The cell and the type of organ in which the tumour is located
  • The rate of growth
  • The staging (a process in which doctors classify the size, site and spread of a tumour)
  • The patient's characteristics, such as age, general health and personal desires.

Treatment often involves a combination of therapies, such as surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, and other supportive measures.

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