Where does cancer develop?

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Cancer can develop in different parts of the body. It can occur in organs, like the kidney or brain. It can also occur in the blood cells in the bone marrow.

Cancer is second only to heart disease as the leading cause of death in the United States. It will claim more than 500,000 lives this year. Many forms of cancer can be avoided, and a great number can be cured if they are detected early.

Cancer is actually a group of more than a hundred separate diseases. All are characterized by an abnormal and unregulated growth of cells. The growth destroys surrounding body tissue and may spread to other parts of the body—a process known as metastasis.

Some of the more common types of cancer include:

  • Brain cancer
  • Skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma being the most common)
  • Lung cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Lymphoma
  • Leukemia

There are many others as well.

Cancer has the potential to develop anywhere in the body, and to people of any age. Cancer—unlike infectious diseases such as the flu (influenza), AIDS or tuberculosis—is not contagious. It is usually caused by genetic damage inside an individual cell. When cancer affects a cell, the cell is called malignant. Unlike normal cells in the body, malignant cells divide (in most cases) more rapidly than they should. That's important because many drugs used to fight cancer (called antineoplastic or anticancer drugs) attack cells that are malignant during the active phase of cell division.

You may know someone whose hair fell out during treatment for cancer. That was because the anticancer drug(s) affected not just the malignant cells but also the normal hair follicle cells, which divide rapidly.