Cancer basics

Cancer occurs when certain types of abnormal cells are produced. It can occur in many different parts of the body. A wide variety of factors are involved in the development of cancer. Some are related to family history, while others are related to lifestyle and diet.

To reduce the risk of cancer, avoid smoking, keep your body weight within the healthy range for your height, maintain regular physical activity, keep alcohol consumption to a moderate level, and eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables with moderate amounts of red and processed meats.

What is Cancer?

The body is made up of small units called cells. New cells are constantly produced to replace cells that have become worn out or damaged. New cells are also made during growth, e.g., during infancy and childhood. Normally, the body regulates the growth of new cells but occasionally, abnormal cells are produced.

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These abnormal cells do not function properly, and if they are not destroyed by the body’s surveillance system, they may develop (mutate) and also rapidly increase in number, causing cancer.

The abnormal cells may also spread to other parts of the body and multiply there. Cancer can occur in different parts of the body. In the U.S., the most common cancers in men are lung cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer. The most common cancers in women are breast cancer, lung cancer, and colon cancer. Cancer is a complicated disease to study because:

  • It can take many years to develop.
  • There are many different forms.
  • A large number of factors are involved.
  • Some factors increase the risk of cancer.
  • Some factors reduce the risk of cancer.
  • Some substances can start the process of cancer.
  • Some substances affect the progression of cancer.
  • Cancer is a major cause of death in the U.S. It causes about a quarter of all deaths. It is more common in older people than in younger people.