The following overviews provide basic reference information about the most commonly occuring types of cancer. These guides are provided for informational and educational purposes only and are not to be considered medical advice. Each guide is provided as both an HTML and PDF document.
Cervical cancer starts in the cervix, the narrow opening connecting the uterus and the vagina. This opening has two ends: the exocervix, the part closest to the uterus containing squamous cells and the endocervix, the part closest to the vagina containing glandular cells. The exo and endo portions of the cervix are connected by the transformation zone; most cervical cancers begin in this zone where squamous and glandular cells intermix.
Cancers that affect children develop and are treated differently than those affecting adults. Unlike cancers affecting adults, childhood cancers are the result of DNA changes in the cells that happen in early life, sometimes before birth. Childhood cancers make up less than 1% of all cancers diagnosed each year.
Esophageal cancer forms in the tissue lining of the muscular tube within the neck connecting the throat and stomach known as the esophagus. The esophagus has several layers, and esophageal cancers start in the innermost layer (the mucosa) and spread outward (through the submucosa and the muscle layer). Growths within the walls of the esophagus may be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
Kidney cancer develops when cells begin to grow uncontrollably and form a tumor in the kidneys, an organ pair attached to the backside of the abdomen. The kidneys are responsible for filtering blood to remove excess water, salt and waste products. This pair of organs also helps regulate blood pressure and the production of red blood cells.
Leukemia is a cancer of the body’s white blood cells. It begins in the bone marrow, the soft tissue inside the bones where white blood cells are created. Healthy white blood cells are very important to the function of the immune system; they help fight off bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms within the body that cause infections. Leukemia develops when mutated white blood cells are produced in an uncontrolled and unregulated manner.
Liver cancer is abnormal cell growth on or within the liver. Liver cancer either starts in the liver (called primary liver cancer) or it spreads to the liver (called metastatic liver cancer). Metastatic liver cancer is more common in United States and Western Europe, while primary liver cancer is common in the third world.
Lung cancer is abnormal cell growth that originates in the tissues that line the lung’s air passages. As abnormal lung cells grow and multiply, they form into a tumor and disrupt the function of the lungs, to provide oxygen to the body via blood circulation. It is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer, and it is the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women.
Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) affects how blood cells--white blood cells, red blood cells, platelets--are produced. MDS begins when bone marrow stem cells become genetically altered and begin inefficiently producing healthy blood cells and/or making defective blood cells. These defective blood cells often do not function as healthy cells should, and they tend to die earlier than healthy blood cells.
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (abbreviated NHL) is a type of cancer that affects lymphatic tissue, and specifically the tissue’s B and T white blood cells. These cells play an important role in enabling the lymphatic system to protect the body against infections and rid the body of germs. When NHL develops in these cells it interferes with these processes.
Oral, head and neck cancer (also known as oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer) refers to tumors in the throat, larynx (voice box), nose, sinuses and mouth. The oral cavity and oropharynx helps you breathe, talk, eat, chew, and swallow, and the presence of cancerous tumors in these areas may interfere with one or more of these processes.
Ovarian cancer is the abnormal growth of cells in the ovaries, the egg (ovum) producing part of the female reproductive system. Often, ovarian cancer goes undetected until it has metastasized (spread) to the pelvis and abdomen. At this late stage, this cancer can be difficult to treat. Ovarian cancer ranks as the 11th most common cancer among women, and it is the 5th leading cause of cancer-related death for women1.
Pancreatic cancer is the abnormal growth of cells within the pancreas. The pancreas, located directly beneath the stomach, produces several important hormones within the body through its endocrine cells and it releases digestive enzymes that assist digestion and absorption of nutrients in the small intestine through its exocrine cells. Pancreatic cancer disrupts the hormonal function of the pancreas’ endocrine cells and the digestive function of its exocrine cells.
Prostate cancer forms in the tissue of the prostate, a gland of the male reproductive system located underneath the bladder and in front of the rectum. Typically, prostate tumors grow to a detectable size over a long period of time, and prostate cancer metastasizes (spreads) at a very slow rate. However, when prostate cancer metastasizes, it typically affects the lungs, liver and brain. Prostate cancer is typically diagnosed in older males, and it is the second most frequent form of cancer affecting males.
A sarcoma is a cancerous tumor that originates in the body’s connective tissue. While sarcomas can occur almost anywhere in the body, arms and legs are the most common sites for sarcoma tumors to grow. This is because the limbs contain a relatively high amount of connective tissue compared to the rest of the body.
Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, can develop in any part of the stomach and possibly spread throughout the stomach and to distant organs. Often, it occurs in the inner lining (mucosa) of the stomach. Stomach cancer rarely shows symptoms and slowly develops over years allowing it to go undetected until its advanced stages. It is a leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the world and mostly affects older people.
Testicular cancer is abnormal cell growth in the testicles (or testes), a part of the male reproductive system. The testicles reside in a sack of skin called the scrotum located beneath the base of the penis. They are responsible for making male hormones, like testosterone, and they also create sperm. Several kinds of cells are found in the testicles and each may develop particular types of cancers.
Thyroid cancer begins in the thyroid glands, which are located inside the front of the lower neck. The thyroid has two types of cells: follicular cells, which use iodine from the blood to create hormones that regulate the metabolism, and C cells, which make calcitonin, a hormone that regulates the body’s use of calcium. Distinct cancers develop from each type of thyroid cell. These differences are important because they determine the seriousness of the cancer and the needed treatment.
Both uterine and endometrial cancers form in the female reproductive system. The uterus, also known as the womb, is the organ where a fetus grows and develops during pregnancy. The endometrium is the inner lining of the uterus. Cancer cells developing in the endometrium are classified as carcinomas (cancer cells forming in the lining tissue) and those developing in the uterus are sarcomas (cancer cells forming in the muscle tissue).