Cancer is a general term for many diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control.

Are all abnormal growths cancerous?
No. Abnormal growths (Tumors) that aren't cancer are called benign. Benign tumors can cause problems – they can grow very large and press on healthy organs and tissues, but, they cannot grow into (invade) other tissues. Because they cannot invade, they also cannot spread to other parts of the body (metastasize). These tumors are almost never life threatening.

How many stages of cancer are there?
It depends on which cancer you are talking about and which staging system the doctor is using. Some types of cancer have more than one type of staging system. Most types of cancer have 4 stages, numbered 1 - 4. Often doctors write the stage down in roman numerals i.e. I-IV.

Stage 1 - a cancer is relatively small and contained within the organ it started in.

Stage 2 - a cancer which has not started to spread into surrounding tissue, but is larger than in stage 1. Sometimes stage 2 means that cancer cells have spread into lymph nodes close to the tumor.

Stage 3 – a cancer that may have started to spread into surrounding tissues and there are cancer cells in the lymph nodes in the area.

Stage 4 – a cancer that has spread from where it started to another body organ. This is also called secondary or metastatic cancer.

How problematic is cancer?
Cancer is growing in epidemic proportions. WHO warns that by year 2015, there will be 10 million deaths due to cancer. The majority of new cancer cases are now in low- and middle-income countries. Most of the poor African countries do not have the resources to fight cancer. Multiple health challenges posed by AIDS/HIV, malaria and tuberculosis (TB) make the scenario worse. The most common cancers worldwide are lung, breast, colon and rectum, stomach and prostate. Breast or cervix cancer is the most common tumor affecting women in almost all countries. Cancer that causes the most deaths is lung cancer. The cancers most common in developing countries are those that have a poor prognosis; lung, stomach, liver and esophagus. Liver cancer is also very common for men in several African countries, although Kaposi Sarcoma has become the most common cancer in 13 countries that are severely affected by the AIDS epidemic.



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