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Cancer is a group of diseases characterized by the abnormal and unrestrained growth of cells in body organs or tissues. Tumour-forming cells develop when the oncogenes (genes controlling cell growth and multiplication) in a cell or cells undergo a series of changes.
A small group of abnormal cells develop that divide more rapidly than normal, lack differentiation (they no longer perform their specialized task), and may escape the normal control of hormones and nerves.
Cancers differ from benign neoplasms (abnormal growths, such as warts) in that they spread and infiltrate surrounding tissue and may cause block-ages, destroy nerves, and erode bone. Cancer cells may also spread via the blood vessels and lymphatic system to form secondary tumours.
Causes of cancer include factors like sunlight, smoking, pollutants, alcohol consumption, and dietary factors. These factors may cause critical changes in body cells in susceptible people.
Susceptibility to some cancers may be inherited.
Many cancers are now curable, usually by combinations of surgery, radiotherapy, and anticancer drugs.
For information on particular cancers, refer to the organ in question (for example lung cancer, stomach cancer).