About cancer and cancer treatments

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What is cancer?

  • Cancer is a condition caused by the abnormal growth of cells, and is a leading cause of death.
  • Cancerous cells contain mutations which allow them to escape the body’s normal checks and grow prolifically.
  • Cancer biomarkers are features of the abnormalities in cancer cells. They provide evidence leading to diagnosis, treatment options and prognosis.

See What is cancer?


The cell cycle

  • Cells divide and replicate themselves in a cycle that involves four phases: mitosis, gap 1, synthesis and gap 2.
  • Checkpoints throughout the cell cycle monitor for abnormal cells and signal them to repair or destroy themselves.
  • Apoptosis or programmed cell death is an important process related to the cell cycle which removes unneeded cells from the body.

See The cell cycle: How the body produces cells.


How do we test for cancer?

  • Tests may be performed to diagnose cancer in a patient with symptoms, or to inform treatment in a person diagnosed with cancer.
  • Tests may include medical imaging, biopsies, and laboratory tests of blood and urine.
  • Test results can be used to stage cancer, that is, classify its severity according to a recognised system.

See How do we test for cancer?


Cancer stages

  • Cancer staging provides information about the extent of growth and spread of cancer tumours.
  • The stages of cancer can be split into five stages (numeric or descriptive) or in terms of tumour, lymph nodes and metastasis (TNM staging).
  • Tests used to diagnose and stage cancer may also identify biomarkers which can be used to inform treatment methods.

See Identifying the stage of cancer growth.


How is cancer treated?

  • Cancer treatments can be classified as standard or non-standard depending on whether they are recommended to treat a particular type of cancer.
  • Standard of care, also known as best practice, is the treatment that experts believe will be most effective against a particular type of cancer.
  • Types of anticancer treatments include chemotherapy, targeted therapy, radiotherapy, surgery and biological therapy.

See How is cancer treated?

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