William The Coroner’s Forensic Files

Thursday, 20, January, 2011

What Is Cancer

Filed under: Medicine — williamthecoroner @ 12:04

Cancer is not one single disease. It was the height of silliness for the United States to talk about a “War on Cancer”. That’s like declaring war on mammals. There are so many kinds and types, that statement is meaningless. It is always amusing to hear people talk about cancer as a single entity, because it is obvious that they don’t know what they are talking about.

OK. So, what are we talking about? Let us start by defining out terms, so we are all on the same page. A tumor is a swelling or growth. A neoplasm is a new growth. A malignant tumor grows faster, and will invade, a benign tumor is relatively slow-growing, and does not invade. Malignant growths of epithelial tissues are carcinomas, malignant growths of connective tissues are called sarcomas. Finally, it is silly to say, as I saw in one bad TV show, that a person has “adenocarcinoma”. OK. we know that carcinomas are malignant growths of epithelial tissue, adeno is the prefix describing glandular tissue. So an adenocarcinoma is a malignant growth of epithelial glands.

But cancers are transformed tissue. They don’t arise spontaneously. They arise in some source tissue, and retain some characteristics of that source tissue. So, malignant tumor that arises in the glandular epithelium of the breast, is an adenocarcinoma of the breast. A malignant tumor that arises in the bronchi of the lung of a smoker is probably a squamous bronchogenic carcinoma. There are some hold overs, the adenocarcinoma of the liver used to be referred to as a hepatoma. The AFIP has books covering every tumor from every anatomic location, and a significant part of those books deals with the old nomenclature, so everyone can be on the same page.

What makes a cancer malignant? We don’t really know, and people have been asking that question since the 1890s. Breast cancer tends to go to liver and bone. Lung cancers tend to go to the brain. Cancers that make mucin have a tendency to be more invasive than those that don’t. The mucin pushes apart the tissues and helps make a channel.

I do know that if a person speaks of a tumor that was “invasive but not malignant.” that person does not know what they are talking about.


  1. Wow. What was the source of the invasive but not malignant quote? Dumbass.

    Comment by MJ — Tuesday, 25, January, 2011 @ 16:36 | Reply

    • It was from a very popular blogger, about whom I will say no more.

      Comment by williamthecoroner — Thursday, 27, January, 2011 @ 11:34

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