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What is cancer?

More likely than not, you have or had a family member or friend deal with some form of cancer. But, what exactly is cancer, and how does it affect the human body?

In its simplest definition, cancer is the disruption of the cycle of a body's cell, the formation of abnormal cells and the chance of old or damaged cells not properly breaking down, leading to tumors. When a tumor is benign, it will not spread or invade neighboring tissues. Malignant tumors, or cancerous tumors, are likely to spread to nearby cells, and could break off and travel, affecting other areas of the body as well.

Normal cells in the body have specific purposes or roles. Normal cells also have life cycles, and will break down when the body feels they are no longer necessary, called apoptosis. Cancer cells, on the other hand, do not break down in the same manner and instead divide and multiply. In addition, many cancer cells are able to avoid or affect the body's immune system, so they can fight against the body's natural protections.

Cancer can lead to significant disabilities and even death, evident by the thousands of Americans who suffer from cancer each year. The Social Security Administration understands the severity of cancer and includes all forms of cancer among their recognized diseases for their Social Security Disability benefits for illnesses programs. Although the programs are not designed to fully cover a victim's medical expenses, it may help provide some financial relief while out of work with a disability.

Source: National Cancer Institute, "What Is Cancer?" Accessed May 8, 2017

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