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Article title: Cancer: NWHIC
Cancer is a group of more than 100 different diseases. Cancer occurs when cells become abnormal and keep dividing and forming more cells without order or control. All organs of the body are made up of cells. Normally, cells divide to produce more cells only when the body needs them. If cells divide when new ones are not needed, they form a mass of excess tissue called a tumor. Tumors can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer). The cells in malignant tumors can invade and damage nearby tissues and organs. Cancer cells can also break away from a malignant tumor and travel through the bloodstream or the lymphatic system to form new tumors in other parts of the body. The spread of cancer is called metastasis.
Cancer often causes symptoms that you can watch for. The word "caution" can remind you of the most common warning signs of cancer:
Change in bowel or bladder
A sore that does not heal
Unusual bleeding or discharge
Thickening or lump in the breast or any other part of the body
Indigestion or difficulty swallowing
Obvious change in a wart or mole, or
Nagging cough or hoarseness
These symptoms are not always warning signs of cancer. They can also be caused by less serious conditions. It is important to see a doctor if you have any of these symptoms. Only a doctor can make a diagnosis. Donít wait to feel pain: Early cancer usually does not cause pain. A biopsy is the only sure way to know whether a medical problem is cancer. In a biopsy, the doctor removes a sample of tissue. The tissue is examined under a microscope to check for cancer cells.
Cancer is treated with surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or biological therapy. The doctor may use one method or a combination of methods. The choice of treatment depends on the type and location of the cancer, whether the disease has spread, the patientís age and general health, and other factors. Many cancer patients take part in clinical trials (research studies) testing new treatment methods. Such studies are designed to improve cancer treatment.
Many cases of cancer can be prevented by not using tobacco products, avoiding the harmful rays of the sun, and choosing foods with less fat and more fiber. In addition, regular checkups and self-exams can reveal cancer at an early stage when treatment is likely to be effective.
You can find out more about cancer in women by contacting the following organizations:
National Cancer Instituteís Cancer Information Service 1-800-422-6237
This information was abstracted from fact sheets developed by the National Cancer Institute.
All material contained in the FAQs is free of copyright restrictions, and may be copied, reproduced, or duplicated without permission of the Office on Women's Health in the Department of Health and Human Services; citation of the sources is appreciated.
Publication date: 1998
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