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Sarcoma: What is Cancer?

One of the most confusing aspects about being told you have sarcoma is that doctors and other health care providers use terms such as cancer, malignancy, tumor, growth, lump, and nodule. It is difficult for patients to sort out what all of these terms mean.

Cancer is a form of abnormal cell growth in tissues of the body. Under normal circumstances as we grow and age, the individual cells in the tissues of the body replace themselves through a regular and organized process of cell growth. When the cells of an organ grow out of control, the resulting tissue may form a lump of abnormal cells called a nodule or tumor. This is a growth of tissue made up of cells that are no longer functioning in a normal way.

Here are some definitions to help explain the terms used to describe soft tissue growths that might occur due to abnormal cell growth.

Growth: A non-specific term that describes a collection of tissue that is growing in a way that is different from normal tissue. Growths can be benign (such as a cyst or wart) or they can be cancerous.

Tumor: A lump of tissue that is growing out of control. Tumors can be benign (not a threat to life) or they can be cancerous.

Malignant tumor: A rapidly growing tumor made up of abnormal cells.

Another term for a malignant tumor is cancer. A malignant tumor will first grow only in the area where it started. This is known as the primary tumor. The primary tumor cells may spread to other tissues or organs through the bloodstream or lymph system. Once the tumor cells have spread to other parts of the body, they will take root and start to grow other tumors. This process is called metastasizing. The new tumor name in other parts of the body is called metastatic tumor.

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