What is cancer? 

Cancer is the abnormal growth of the body’s cells, caused by damage to the genes that control the cells’ growth and regeneration. This damage may be environmental, inherited or both.

Abnormal cells may grow into a lump called a tumour which may be benign (localised and non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous and capable of spreading to other parts of the body).

Cancer usually starts as a tumour in a “primary” site (main tumour site). It may be contained there, or it may spread to surrounding tissue via the lymphatic system or blood stream. Cells that move to other parts of body and grow into new tumours are said to have metastasised, creating “secondary” cancers.

In some cases, a new cancer may appear after a primary cancer is cured.

Cancer is said to be “advanced” when it reaches the point where treatment is unlikely to eradicate the abnormal cells. At this stage, the disease may progress, or it may be controlled but chronic. People can live for many years with advanced cancer.

Last updated 30 August 2015