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How Does Cancer Spread?

Early in the development of cancer, the abnormal growth of cells begins in one particular location in the body (usually where the cells with DNA damage are located) and produces a tumor. As the tumor grows, tumor cells can break away and enter the bloodstream (metastasis), where they are then free to travel to any part of the body and continue their rapid and uncontrolled cell growth. People with metastatic cancer often have a lower chance of survival because the cancer has already spread throughout the body. Once cancer begins infecting other regions of the body, it becomes very difficult to completely destroy all of the cancer cells.

As cancer cells reproduce, they begin to deprive normal healthy cells of nutrients, minerals, and chemicals that are essential to their survival. If the normal cells can’t survive, then the function of the organ to which they belong declines, which can lead to illness in the patient.Unfortunately, for many cancer patients, the cancer cells can eventually overtake the normal cells in the body causing death in people who would otherwise still have many years of life left.

Figure 12. Ionizing radiation can cause DNA strand breaks, leading to uncontrollable cell growth and tumor formation.