Types of Cancer

Authored by Dr Roger Henderson, 14 Nov 2017

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The Information Standard

Reviewed by:
Dr Hannah Gronow, 14 Nov 2017

What are the different 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 three categories:

  • Carcinomas are cancers that arise from cells which line a body surface, or the lining of a gland - for example, the skin, or the lining of the gut, mouth, neck of the womb (cervix), airways, etc.
  • 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.
  • Leukaemias and lymphomas are cancers of cells in bone marrow and lymph glands. For example, leukaemia is a cancer of cells that make white blood cells.

The five most common cancers in the UK are breast, lung, prostate, bowel and skin cancer. See separate leaflets called Breast CancerLung CancerProstate CancerColon Cancer and Rectal Cancer and Skin Cancer for more details. There are also separate leaflets giving details about other types of cancer.

What is carcinoma in situ?

A carcinoma in situ is the very early stage of a cancer when the abnormal cancer cells are confined to their original site. At this stage no tumour has grown and no cancer cells have spread. It may be that many cancers remain at this dormant stage for months, or even years, before they start to grow and spread into a proper cancer. This may be because the cells of the carcinoma in situ do not have the ability to stimulate new blood vessels. If they cannot stimulate new blood vessels to grow then the cancer itself cannot grow or spread.

It is thought that one or more of the cells in a carcinoma in situ may then mutate after some time (some genes may be altered). This then gives them the ability to make chemicals to stimulate new blood vessels. The cancer then grows and spreads as described above.

A carcinoma in situ contains only a small number of cells and is usually too small to be detected by scans or X-rays. However, some screening tests may detect a carcinoma in situ. For example, some cells from an abnormal cervical screening test, looked at under the microscope, may show carcinoma in situ. These cells can then be destroyed by treatment which prevents cancer from developing. Sometimes a small sample (a biopsy) taken from a part of the body may show a carcinoma in situ.

Further reading and references

In November last year I had a smear that came back abnormal and was given an appointment for a colposcopy January just gone, also abnormal CN1 and I have another colposcopy this coming January again....

jane96717
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