Medical Definition of Cancer

The medical definition of cancer explains it as a disease of the body's cells.

Normally cells grow and multiply in a controlled way. If something causes a mistake in the cells' genetic blueprints, this controlled growth can become uncontrolled.

Cancer is the term used to describe collections of such cells, growing and potentially spreading within the body. As cancerous cells can arise from almost any type of tissue cell, cancer actually refers to about 100 different known diseases. Unusual cell growth that does not spread beyond an immediate area is known as benign (not dangerous).

If these cells spread into surrounding areas, or to different parts of the body, they are known as malignant, or more commonly as cancer.

Conventional Medical Approach

The term conventional medicine refers to medicine practiced by medical doctors and allied health professionals. Other terms for conventional medicine are allopathic, western, orthodox and mainstream medicine. The conventional approach to treating cancer involves surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Newer treatments such as immunotherapies also form part of conventional oncology.

Oncology is the medical field concerned with cancer. Upon diagnosis you will be referred to an oncologist for treatment. Within oncology there are two approaches to cancer treatment, depending on the type of cancer you have and how far progressed it is:

  1. Curative – this is where an evidence based medical treatment is available for your type and stage of cancer. These treatments aim to leave you relatively free of symptoms and the goal is that, post-treatment, you will have a normal lifespan. Not everyone experiences side effects from treatment, however there are common experiences such as fatigue, which can be managed using a combination of modalities including complementary therapies.
  2. Palliative – an approach to care when there is no suitable medical curative treatment. The World Health Organisation (WHO) define Palliative Care as an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problems associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual.

 Palliative care:

  • provides relief from pain and other distressing symptoms;
  • affirms life and regards dying as a normal process;
  • intends neither to hasten or postpone death;
  • integrates the psychological and spiritual aspects of patient care;
  • offers a support system to help patients live as actively as possible until death;
  • offers a support system to help the family cope during the patients illness and in their own bereavement;
  • uses a team approach to address the needs of patients and their families, including bereavement counselling, if indicated;
  • will enhance quality of life, and may also positively influence the course of illness;
  • is applicable early in the course of illness, in conjunction with other therapies that are intended to prolong life, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, and includes those investigations needed to better understand and manage distressing clinical complications.