How Cancer Spreads

Cancer is a dangerous disease regardless of where it is located in the body. It is even more dangerous than normal when it is located in an area that has a high number of blood vessels or other conveyors of bodily fluids. Tumors in these areas are more dangerous because there is a higher chance that the cells from the original tumor will break off and re-establish themselves elsewhere.

Contrary to what many think, the majority of deaths from cancer are not actually caused by the original tumor. Death from cancer is most frequently caused by secondary tumors that are formed when the original tumor goes from being benign (not harmful) to malignant (harmful).

Secondary tumors are formed when cells from the original, primary tumor split away, are carried to other parts of the body (metastasis), and then re-establish themselves in the tissues and start to grow. Metastasis is a very complex process that requires a variety of events to be successful. The first thing that must happen is that the cells must detach themselves from the primary tumor. Next, the cell must be picked up by the bloodstream or the lymphatic system. Finally, the cells must attach themselves into a new tissue to form a secondary tumor.

The official term for the spread of cancer is metastasis. When the cells spread to a different part of the body, the new tumor is a metastatic tumor. The cells are from the original tumor so the new tumor is made up of the same type of cells as the original tumor. For example, if cells from a breast cancer tumor spread to the lungs, the new tumor is made up of cancerous breast cells, not lung cells. The cells will look the same as cells from the original tumor under a microscope.

It is possible for cells from one cancer site to spread to almost any part of the body. If the cells go from the original site to a lymph node near the primary or original tumor, the cancer is called "lymph node involvement" or "regional disease." If the cells spread far away to the opposite end of the body, this is "metastatic disease" or "distant disease."

When cancer spreads from a solid tumor, it most commonly goes to the lungs, bones, liver, and brain. While these are the most common locations for spreading, no area of ​​the body is really safe.

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