NCCN Guidelines for Patients® | Caring for Adolescents and Young Adults - page 9

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Part 1: But I’m too young to have cancer!
Carcinogenesis: The road from normal to cancer
The process of changing from a normal cell to a cancer
cell is called carcinogenesis. Carcinogenesis happens
when genes that control cell growth and death are
damaged and instead of dying the cells continue to grow
and divide (Figure 2).
Over time, these abnormal cancer cells grow and divide
enough to form a clump of cells called a primary tumor.
As the tumor grows, it can start to invade nearby healthy
tissues, causing damage and making it hard for organs to
function properly.
Metastasis: Cancer on the move
Normal cells typically stay where they are—liver cells stay
in the liver, lung cells stay in the lungs, etc. But cancer
cells can escape from the primary tumor and move to
other parts of the body—a process called metastasis.
The ability to spread is what makes cancer so dangerous.
Once cancer cells get loose, they can travel to distant
parts of the body through the lymphatic system or blood
vessels.
When cancer cells settle into new places in the body, they
can replace or damage healthy cells, and eventually may
damage other tissues or organs. Cancer that has spread
to a nearby body part is called a local metastasis. Cancer
that has spread to a body part far from the primary tumor
is called a distant metastasis.
Benign versus malignant tumors
You may have heard some people use the phrase
“benign tumors.” The word benign comes from two Latin
words that mean “well born,” and is used to describe
tumors that:
Are confined to one place,
Are very similar to normal cells,
Do not invade nearby tissues, and
Cannot break away and metastasize.
Common forms of benign tumors include cysts (lumps
filled with fluid), lipomas (lumps of fatty cells), and
fibromas (lumps of fibrous or connective tissue cells).
Figure 2. Carcinogenesis
Illustration Copyright © 2012 Nucleus Medical
Media, All rights reserved.
NCCN Guidelines for Patients
®
: Caring for Adolescents and Young Adults
Version 2013
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