Cancer is a term used to describe a group of illnesses all having certain common characteristics. These characteristics include an uncontrolled growth of cells which forms a tumour. Cancer begins in cells, the building blocks that make up tissues. Tissues make up the organs of the body. Normally, cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When cells grow old, they die, and new cells take their place. Sometimes this orderly process goes wrong. New cells form when the body does not need them, and old cells do not die when they should. These extra cells can form a mass of tissue called a growth or tumour. If cells multiply out of control the tumour can take over the organ and cause health problems by blocking internal ducts, or by pressing against other organs, preventing them from working properly. The tumour can also spread to other organs causing further and sometimes more serious problems. While the word cancer is used very often to describe this disease, it is important to realise that there are over 200 different types of cancer, and each has a specific name, treatment and chance of being cured.
Not all tumors are cancer. Tumours can be benign or malignant:
  • Benign tumours
    .are not cancer
    .are rarely life-threatening
    .can usually be removed surgically or treated with drugs
    .seldom grow back
    .do not spread to the tissues around them or to other parts of the body.
  • Malignant tumours
    .are cancer
    .are more serious than benign tumours
    .may be life-threatening
    .can usually be removed
    .can grow back
    .can spread and damage nearby or distant tissues and organs (metastasis)
How Tumours Spread?
Cells can break away from a malignant tumour and enter the bloodstream or lymphatic system. Cancer cells from the original cancer (primary tumour) can invade other organs and form new tumours. The spread of cancer is called metastasis. Biopsies can be performed to detect if tumour cells have spread to the lymph nodes near the breast or in the armpit.

For further information on breast cancer, awareness or treatment options please see the Irish Cancer Society Action Breast Cancer website at  www.cancer.ie/action or Freefone Helpline on 1800 30 90 40


Clinical Science Institute, University College Hospital, Galway
info@nbcri.ie or call 353+91+526677

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