What is cancer?

Our bodies are made up of billions of tiny parts that fit together like building blocks. These parts are called cells.

Healthy cells grow, divide and eventually get worn out and die. This cycle usually continues without any problems.

Cancer happens when something goes wrong with the cell and it grows and divides in an uncontrolled way. Cancer cells divide too much and don’t die in the way normal cells do. These cells can form a lump called a tumour.

A tumour can form inside:

  • an organ (part of the body that does a specific job, such as the liver or kidney)
  • a bone
  • the lymphatic system (a network that helps defend your body from disease) – when a tumour forms here, it is called a lymphoma.

If the cancer affects your blood, the cancer cells do not form a tumour but affect the bone marrow (the spongy centre of your bones where your blood cells are made). This type of cancer is called leukaemia.

Cancer cells from a tumour can spread to other parts of the body. That is why having treatment as soon as possible is important.

There are more than 200 different types of cancer. Each type has its own name and treatments. People with cancer need to have tests to find out exactly what type of cancer they have, and to find out whether it has spread. This helps the doctors plan the right treatment for each person.

Find out more about the types of cancer that affect teenagers and young adults