Cancer Council Australia

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What is cancer?



about this glossary tool

Cancer is a disease of the body's cells. Normally cells grow and multiply in a controlled way, however, if something causes a mistake to occur in the cells' genetic blueprints, this control can be lost. Cancer is the term used to describe collections of these cells, growing and potentially spreading within the body. As cancerous cells can arise from almost any type of tissue cell, cancer actually refers to about 100 different diseases.

Cancer cells that do not spread beyond the immediate area in which they arise are said to be benign ie. they are not dangerous. If these cells spread into surrounding areas, or to different parts of the body, they are known as malignant - commonly referred to as cancer.

Cancer affects a large number of Australians, both directly and indirectly.

Cancer Council Australia provides credible, up-to-date information about different types of cancer, diagnosis and treatment.

You will also find information about genetic and family history aspects of cancer, help finding a treatment specialist and support for patients, family and carers.


Cancer Diagram

How cancer starts

How cancer spreads


This page was last updated on: Thursday, March 10, 2016