About cancer

What is Cancer?

Cancer is a disease of the cells in the body. Everyone’s body is made up of millions of cells. Cells normally grow, divide and are renewed in a balanced and regular way. Cancer is caused when this process is disrupted and the cells grow in an uncontrolled way. A solid group of cells is called a tumour, growth or mass.

A tumour can be benign or malignant. Cells in benign tumours do not spread to other parts of the body. Malignant tumours are cancerous tumours that can go on to invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body.

Primary and Secondary Cancer

The place where the cancer starts is known as the primary site or primary cancer. If the cancer spreads to another new area then this is known as a secondary cancer or metastatic disease. Benign means that while the tumour may grow, it won’t spread into different parts of the body. Cancer isn’t contagious.

Types of Cancer

There are more than 100 different types of cancer. Each type is classified by the type of cell the cancer originates from - for example, a breast cell, a lung cell, etc. Each type of cancer generally falls into one of five categories:

  • Carcinomas are cancers that come from cells that line a body surface, or the lining of a gland - for example, the skin, or the lining of the gut, mouth, cervix, airways

  • Sarcomas are cancers that arise from cells which make up the connective tissues such as bones or muscles. For example, an osteosarcoma is a cancer of bone tissue

  • Leukaemia is a cancer that develops in the bone marrow affecting developing blood cells, predominantly the white blood cells·Lymphoma are cancers that develop in the lymphatic system. The tumours cause swelling in the lymph nodes and other parts of the body

  • Myeloma are cancers that affect the plasma cells. These cells then multiply causing tumours commonly found in the bone marrow and on surfaces of different bones in the body.

For more information about specific tumour types please click the links below to various expert external sources

Head & Neck
Skin Cancer/Melanoma

What is Oncology?

Oncology is the area of medicine involving cancer. An oncologist is a doctor specialising in the treatment of cancer. Other doctors are involved in the treatment of cancer such as surgeons, palliative care specialists (doctors who specialise in the treatment of symptoms from cancer that cannot be cured) and general physicians (who often are involved in the diagnosis of cancer). If you have cancer you are likely to be referred to some of these doctors depending on the type of treatment that is advised. The Oncology Service also consists of specialised nurses, therapists and social workers as the diagnosis of cancer can affect people and their families in many ways. The Oncology Department also works alongside hospices and the Cancer Society www.cancernz.org.nz who provide support to people with the diagnosis of cancer.

What is Haematology?

Haematology is the study of diseases which affect the blood and bone marrow. These can be malignant (ie Leukaemia/lymphoma) or non-malignant (ie Haemophilia). It involves the study of the immune, blood clotting and vascular systems.

Cancer Net

Living with cancer brings uncertainty but there are targeted treatment options available that may improve quality of life, manage symptoms and have a positive impact on wellbeing.

A cancer diagnosis affects many lives and making informed decisions is vital. CANCER INFO can help you.