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6. How It Spreads

Cancer transforms normal cells into cancer cells that then form a malignant tumor and also "metastasize" to form new tumors at other locations within the body.

From Cell to Cell A cancer cell after several cell divisions.
The first cancer cell in someone's body started out as a seemingly normal cell that one day began mutating into a malignant cell -- over a period of several generations of cell division.

Once there are full-fledged cancer cells, they begin multiplying much more rapidly than normal cells - as they divide in a haphazard manner. As a result, these cancer cells often pile up into a non-structured mass referred to as a malignant "tumor."

A tumor and blood vesselsAn FDG PET scan in a lymphoma patient, including brain, chest and spleen involvement.From Place to Place
A malignant tumor can destroy the part of the body where it originated (the"primary site") and then spread to other parts of the body where new tumors are created and even more destruction occurs. When a cancer moves from place to place like this, it is referred to as "metastasizing."

Cancer patients often ask their doctor: "How advanced is my cancer?" The disease usually is described as being at one of four stages. For example, "Stage 1" means there is evidence of a tumor but only in the tissue of origin, whereas "Stage 4" means the cancer has metastasized to a secondary site, distant from the primary site where it first originated.


Cancer has metastasized in 80% of the patients who die from the disease.