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Overview of Cancer

By Bruce A. Chabner, MD, Elizabeth Chabner Thompson, MD, MPH

A cancer is an abnormal growth of cells (usually derived from a single abnormal cell). The cells have lost normal control mechanisms and thus are able to expand continuously, invade adjacent tissues, migrate to distant parts of the body, and promote the growth of new blood vessels from which the cells derive nutrients. Cancerous (malignant) cells can develop from any tissue within the body.

As cancerous cells grow and multiply, they form a mass of cancerous tissue—called a tumor—that invades and destroys normal adjacent tissues. The term tumor refers to an abnormal growth or mass. Tumors can be cancerous or noncancerous. Cancerous cells from the primary (initial) site can spread throughout the body (metastasize).

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