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Common Cancer Types: An Overview

Common Cancer Types: An Overview

Common Cancer Types: An Overview
By Areg Boyamyan

Cancer is the name given to a collection of related diseases where some of the body's cells begin to divide uncontrollably and spread into surrounding tissues. There are many specific types of cancers, but, generally, cancers fall under five major categories: carcinoma, sarcoma, melanoma, lymphoma, and leukemia.


The most commonly diagnosed type of cancer are carcinomas. This cancer starts in cells of the skin or of the tissue lining of organs, such as the lungs, breasts, and pancreas, as well as the tissue lining of glands. Much like other types of cancer, carcinomas are abnormal cells that divide without stopping and may metastasize, or spread, to other areas of the body, but they don't always. The ability to spread is what makes cancer, in general, such a serious disease.


Sarcomas also are relatively uncommon and develop in bone, cartilage, and soft tissues such as muscle, fat, fibrous tissues, nerves, deep skin tissues, or blood vessels. Most sarcomas develop in the legs or arms but may also be found in the head and neck area, torso, internal organs, and the back of the abdominal cavity. There are approximately 50 different types of soft tissue sarcomas. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 12,310 new soft tissue sarcomas will be diagnosed in 2016 (5,330 cases in females and 6,980 cases in males).


Melanoma is a cancer that usually starts in a certain type of skin cell called melanocytes. These cells are responsible for making the brown pigment melanin, which tans/darkens the skin to protect the deeper skin layers from some of the harmful effects of the sun. Most melanoma cells still produce melanin, so the tumors would usually be black or brown, but it is possible for melanoma cells to not make melanin. In this case, melanoma tumors may be tan, pink, or even white. While melanomas may develop anywhere, they are most likely to begin in the skin of the legs in women and in the skin of the torso (back and chest) in men. The face and neck are also common sites of melanoma. This cancer is much more likely than others to spread to other parts of the body if not detected early on. Approximately 10,130 people are expected to die of melanoma in 2016 (about 3,380 women and 6,750 men).


Lymphoma is the name given to a group of blood cancers that develop in the lymphatic system, which is part of the body's circulatory system and a vital part of the immune system. There are multiple types of lymphoma, but the two main types are Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and Hodgkin Lymphoma, which is actually one of the most curable forms of cancer.


Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow. Cancerous blood cells form and crowd out the healthy blood cells in the bone marrow. How quickly leukemia progresses and how the cells replace the normal marrow and blood cells are different with each type of leukemia, as determined by the type of blood cell that has become cancerous. According to the National Cancer Institute, leukemia is more common in adults over 55 years of age and is, in fact, the most common cancer in children younger than 15 years. A patient's treatment and prognosis depends on the type of blood cell affected and whether the leukemia is chronic or acute. Leukemia is often treated with chemotherapy.

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