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About Cancer

ABOUT CANCER

What is Cancer?

Cancer is a disease of the body’s cells. The body is made up of many different types of cells. These cells are constantly growing and multiplying to produce new cells, either for growth or to replace worn out cells or damaged cells after an accident or injury. Usually this process of growth is quite normal, but occasionally some cells behave in an abnormal way. Abnormal cells may grow into a lump, which is called a tumour. Tumours can either be benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Malignant tumours are made up of cancer cells grown at a specific area of the body called the primary site. If cells break away from the primary cancer site to spread to other organs, they may continue to grow and form a new tumour at that site. This is called a metastasis or secondary cancer.

What are the different types of Cancer?

Cancer is the name given to a group of about 100 diseases. The two main groups of cancers affecting women’s reproductive organs are:

Carcinoma: Is a cancer that starts in the skin, glands and the lining of organs (epithelial tissue)

Sarcoma: Is a cancer arising in the connective tissue, such as a muscle, cartilage or bone.

There are two further groups, both ovarian cancers, which are very uncommon. These are:

Germ Cell: Is a cancer that arises in the cells that mature into eggs and usually only affects women under thirty years of age

Sex-Cord Stromal Cell: Is a cancer that arises in the cells, which release the female hormones. These cancers can occur at any age.

How does cancer spread?

When cancer spreads from its original site, the process is known as metastasis. There are three main ways cancer can spread:

Intra abdominal: Most malignant tumors can grow quite rapidly from the primary site invading nearby organs and tissues within the intra abdominal cavity.
Blood stream: Tumours can also grow and spread from the primary site through the blood stream. Cancerous cells travel through the bloodstream to other regions of the body.
Lymph System: The lymph system is a collection of small pea-sized structures of lymph glands (nodes) along the vessels draining waste and infection material from areas of the body. Part of this process involves some wastes being carried away from the site of infection by the lymph system. It is through this system that cancer cells can also spread. Lymphoedema is long-term swelling of one more parts of the body and is due to a drainage system not working properly.


       
Further recommended Literature

Disclaimer: The Internet provides a lot of information on further reading and resources that are available from organizations and institutions around the world. This section provides a list of such sites, which are either New Zealand based or overseas. The information provided here is for extra reading and information and should not be used to make self-diagnoses or used as a substitute for advice from your doctor. The benefits and risks of treatments will depend on your personal medical condition and may vary from person to person. Always check with your doctor if you have queries or concerns. Please also be aware that the information contained in the websites listed below may not necessarily be relevant to you and your needs. Or you may read information which is contrary to what your doctor has recommended to you. If you read anything which you are not sure about or which is contrary to what is recommended, please ensure you discuss any concerns at the time of consultation with your doctor.

Lymphoedema

The Lymphoedema Association of Australia
British Lymphology Society
CancerBACKUP


What are the different sites of gynaecological cancer?

Cancers grow on different main sites of the female reproductive system.
These main sites are:

Cancer of the Cervix

The cervix is the opening of the lower part of the uterus or womb that connects to the vagina. Fortunately, however, cervical cancer can often be prevented or detected in its earliest stages through effective screening. Cancer of the cervix usually grows slowly over a period of time. Before cancer cells are found on the cervix, the tissues of the cervix go through changes in which cells that are not normal begin to appear, known as dysplasia. Later, cancer cells start to grow and spread more deeply into the cervix and to surrounding areas. The most common type of cervical cancer is squamous cell carcinoma and comes from cells that lie on the surface of the cervix known as squamous cells.

You can learn more about cancer of the cervix at our recommended web links listed below

Further recommended Literature

The Geneva Foundation for Medical Education and Research
CancerBACKUP, UK
National Cancer Institute, USA
CancerHelp, UK
MedicineNet
CanCom - European Institute of Women's Health, Ireland
National Cancer Institute

Cancer of the Ovaries

The ovaries are a pair of organs in the female reproductive system. They are located in the pelvis, one on each side of the uterus or womb. The most common type of ovarian cancer is called epithelial ovarian cancer, which comes from the cells that lie on the surface of the ovary known as epithelial cells. Germ cell ovarian cancers arise from the ovarian cells that produce eggs. Germ cell ovarian cancers are more likely to affect younger women. Stromal ovarian cancers develop from the cells in the ovary that hold the ovary together and produce hormones. Each of these three types of ovarian cancer contains many different subtypes of cancer that are distinguished based on how the cells look under a microscope.

Further recommended Literature

The Geneva Foundation for Medical Education and Research
CancerBACKUP, UK
Womens Cancer Centre, USA
OncoLink
National Cancer Institute, USA
CancerHelp, UK
CanCom - European Institute of Women's Health

 Cancer of the Fallopian tube

The fallopian tubes connect the ovary to the upper, outer-most part of the uterus and provides a means for fertilization of the female egg. Fallopian cancer is an uncommon site of primary cancer. Cancer of the fallopian tube is more likely to occur as a site of metastasis or spread from tumours that have spread from the ovary, uterus or endometrium.

You can learn more about cancer of the fallopian tube at our recommended web links listed below

Further recommended Literature

The Geneva Foundation for Medical Education and Research
OncoLink
CanCom - European Institute of Women's Health

Cancer of the Uterus

Cancer of the Uterus can be one of several types of cancer, depending in which part of the uterus the cancer arises. The majority cancers are of the endometrium, which is the inner lining of the uterus. The most common type of endometrial cancer is called endometrioid adenocarcinoma which comes from cells that form glands in the endometrium The second most common form is papillary serous adenocarcinoma. Another type is the clear cell adenocarcinoma. Sometimes an endometrial cancer has features of more than one subtype; this is called a mixed adenocarcinoma. There are a few other rare types like mucinous adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Cancers can also develop in the muscle layers of the uterus (e.g. Leiomyosarcoma).

You can learn more about cancer of the endometrium/uterus at our recommended web links listed below

Further recommended Literature

CancerBACKUP, UK
Womens cancer center
OncoLink
Geneva Foundation for Medical Education and Research
CanCom - European Institute of Women's Health
National Cancer Institute
The Geneva Foundation for Medical Education and Research
The National Cancer Institute
OncoLink
CancerHelp, UK
MedicineNet
National Cancer Institute
CancerBACKUP, UK

Cancer of the Vagina

Cancer of the vagina is a rare type of cancer in women. The vagina is the passageway through which fluid passes out of the body during menstrual periods and through which a woman has babies. It is also called the "birth canal." The vagina connects the cervix (the opening of the womb or uterus) and the vulva (the folds of skin around the opening to the vagina). Most cancers found in the vagina are actually secondary or metastatic, that is they have arisen somewhere else, usually from the cervix or vulva and spread to the vagina. Most cases occur in women aged over 50 years.

You can learn more about cancer of the vagina at our recommended web links listed below

Further recommended Literature

 The Geneva Foundation for Medical Education and Research
The National Cancer Institute
CancerBACKUP, UK
Womens Cancer Center
OncoLink
CanCom - European Institute of Women's Health
National Cancer Institute

Cancer of the Vulva

Cancer of the vulva is also a rare type of cancer in women and usually occurs in women within the ages of 55-75. The vulva is the outer part of a woman's vagina. It consists of two outer lips (the labia majora), which are covered in pubic hair and surround two inner lips (the labia minora), which are thin and delicate. At the front of the vulva is the tiny structure that helps women reach a sexual climax (the clitoris). Just behind the clitoris is the opening through which women pass urine (the urethra), and just behind this is the birth canal (vagina). The opening to the back passage (anus) is close to, but separate from, the vulva. All these are visible from outside the body.



    You can learn more about cancer of the vulva at our recommended web links listed below

    Further recommended Literature

The Geneva Foundation for Medical Education and Research
The National Cancer Institute
CancerBACKUP, UK
OncoLink
CanCom - European Institute of Women's Health

GRADING AND STAGING

When your doctor is discussing your type of cancer with you the words grading and staging will be mentioned. These are important features in the management and treatment of cancers and it is important to understand what these mean.

 

  • What is grading? Grades are usually described for the degree of severity of a tumor. A pathologist, a doctor who identified diseases by studying cells under a microscope can determine the character of the tumour cells.
  • How is grading reported? The grading system is usually on a scale from 1-3
  • What is Staging? Staging indicates how much the cancer has grown or spread. The system of classification and staging of tumors are considered by the Gynaecology Oncology Committee of the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) and by the International Union Against Cancer (IUCC). Stages are defined by the FIGO classification.

How is Staging reported: FIGO staging being conventionally used are reported under the following headings:
 

WHAT IS FAMILIAL CANCER?

The majority of cancers - approximately 90% - occur by chance. These are sporadic. A small number of cancers - approximately 5-10% - seem to "run in the family". These are inherited and are known as familial cancer.

 

  • How can it occur? Familial cancers occur when an inherited genetic change or mutation from a parent is transferred to their child. Genetic changes occur in the BRCA1 (Breast Cancer 1) or BRCA2 genes which can cause hereditary breast and ovarian cancers.
  • What does Genetics mean? Each cell in our body has 46 chromosomes that are arranged in 23 pairs. These chromosomes contain genes that provide instructions to the body. The chromosomes are arranged in pairs we each have two copies of each gene. When an egg or sperm is produced the chromosome pairs divide so that only one copy goes to each egg or sperm. This means that if a parent has a mutation in a gene there is a 50% chance that this fault will be found in the egg or sperm.
  • What are BRCA1 and BRCA2? The BRCA1 gene is found on chromosome 17, while the gene BRCA2 is found on chromosome 13. When someone has a mutation in this gene they have a greater chance of developing breast and ovarian cancer than those who do not have a mutation.

Disclaimer:The Internet provides a lot of information on further reading and resources that are available from organizations and institutions around the world. This section provides a list of such sites, which are either New Zealand based or overseas. The information provided here is for extra reading and information and should not be used to make self-diagnoses or used as a substitute for advice from your doctor. The benefits and risks of treatments will depend on your personal medical condition and may vary from person to person. Always check with your doctor if you have queries or concerns. Please also be aware that the information contained in the websites listed below may not necessarily be relevant to you and your needs. Or you may read information which is contrary to what your doctor has recommended to you. If you read anything which you are not sure about or which is contrary to what is recommended, please ensure you discuss any concerns at the time of consultation with your doctor.