Cancer is an unregulated proliferation of cells due to loss of normal controls, resulting in unregulated growth, lack of differentiation, local tissue invasion, and, often, metastasis. Cancer can develop in any tissue or organ at any age. There is often evidence of an immune response to tumors, but the role of the immune system in preventing and treating cancer is still uncertain.
Many cancers are curable if detected at an early stage, and long-term remission is often possible in later stages. However, cure is not always possible and is not attempted in some advanced cases in which palliative care provides better quality of life than aggressive treatment, particularly in the elderly or in patients with underlying comorbid disorders.
Last full review/revision August 2008 by Bruce A. Chabner, MD; Elizabeth Chabner Thompson, MD, MPH