Types of Cancer, and How to Find Them

There are many types of cancer. Cancer happens when cells begin to divide out of control, and no longer listen to the body’s signal to stop dividing. These rapidly dividing cells can then move from their original location in the body to other sites in the body, where they continue to divide.

It is normal for cells to divide. This is how older, dying cells replace themselves with new cells. The trouble begins when the cells either do not die off naturally, or they are somehow damaged and replicate into collections of cells which are called malignant tumors.

If the cancer is in the blood, then tumors do not develop.

Not all tumors are cancerous. If a tumor is not cancerous it is called benign. When a tumor is cancerous it is called a malignant tumor.


What Makes Cancer Malignant

A malignant tumor has cells which can be described as aggressive. These cells divide very quickly and the tumor grows fast. The cells also spread into surrounding tissues. Malignant cells can break off into the blood stream and ride to other parts of the body. For example, a cancerous tumor in the breast can spread to the lymph nodes under the arm, to the lungs and into the bone.


When cancer cells spread and create tumors in other parts of the body, the cancer is considered metastasized.

Types of Cancerous Cells

Cancer cells are classified according to the type of tissue that is affected.

Skin and Tissues: Skin tissue is made up of epithelial cells. Epithelial tumors are called carcinomas. Common epithelial carcinomas are found in the breast, colon, lung, prostate and stomach. This is a relatively common type of cancer. Skin cancer that grows out of cells called melanocytes, is called Melanoma

Bones, Cartilage, Nerves and Connective Tissue: Cancer in these types of tissues are called Sarcomas. They grow in cells that are called “Mesenchymal”. The good news about Sarcomas is that many of them can be successfully treated with chemotherapy.

Ovaries and Testicles: Tumors in these organs are called Germ Cell Tumors. A germ cell has the potential to grown into any type of cell. Sometimes these tumors grow outside of the ovaries and testicles; when that happens it’s usually because there was a developmental problem prior to being born, while still a fetus.

Blood: Leukemias and Lymphomas are cancers that affect the blood. The cancer begins in the bone marrow, which is where blood cells are formed.

Precursor Cells: Blastomas are cancers that form in cells which are called “precursor cells”. Precursor cells are sometimes called stem cells. This type of cancer is often found in children and can develop in various parts of the body including the brain, eyes, bones and organs.

Blood Plasma Red and white blood cells flow through the blood vessels in a fluid that is called plasma. Plasma cells are called multiple myeloma cells when they become cancers. They can lead to tumors in the bones. Other names for this type of cancer includes Kahler disease and plasma cell myeloma


What Causes Cancer

Cancer happens when the genes that manage how a cell behaves, are damaged. Damage to the genes may happen in several ways:

  • Genetic predisposition (born with the risk)
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Diet
  • Smoking
  • Exposure to radiation
  • Sunlight
  • Environmental pollutants

How is Cancer Prevented

Some people are prone to getting cancer. It runs in families, so if a close relative has a type of cancer, one’s own risk goes up.

There are also many environmental exposures that can greatly increase one’s risk of getting cancer. When a cell is repeatedly exposed to something damaging, small changes (which are called mutations) in the cell’s DNA begin to happen. Each time the cell divides and is then exposed to that irritant, the DNA changes a bit more. Over time, the cell is no longer the same type of cell it started out as.


Making healthy choices can greatly reduce one’s risk of getting cancer. This includes:

  • Stop smoking!
  • Eliminate processed meats (i.e. hot dogs)
  • Reduce consumption of all meat
  • Use sunscreen
  • Eat many leafy green vegetables

Screening Tests for Cancer

Catching cancer early can greatly help one’s prognosis. If it’s caught in time, some cancers are treatable. Here are some of the most important screening tests one can get:

Colonoscopy: This is a procedure in which a scope is inserted into anus and the entire rectum and colon is observed. Polyps, which are abnormal growths, can be removed and biopsied. Any other abnormalities can also be biopsied and tested.

Mammogram: A mammogram takes a detailed image of the breast and looks for abnormal growth. The breast is squeezed between two plates for a few minutes while the image is captured. Catching breast tumors early can help with survival.

Helical CT Scan This test can help identify lung tumors, and has reduced the death rates of heavy smoker by catching cancers early.

Pap Smear and HPV testing: The pap smear detects changes to the cells on the cervix. It’s important to test for Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) when doing a pap smear since this is one of the primary causes of cervical cancer.

There are many additional cancer screening tests depending on which cancer is of concern


Chemotherapy, Radiation and surgery may all be used to treat a variety of cancers. There are also many ongoing clinical trials into new types of cancer that could be tried.

The information contained on this site is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for diagnosis or treatment rendered by a licensed medical professional. It is essential that you discuss with your primary care provider any symptoms or medical problems that you may be experiencing.

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