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Cancer cells vs. normal cells: what is the difference?

Cancer is a group of about 100 diseases involving abnormal cell growth. Although most individuals facing a cancer diagnosis want to know what caused their cancer, the answer is not that simple.

Living organisms, including human beings, are made up of cells. Cells generally have a specific life cycle depending on their location in the body. Different cells have different lifespans. For instance, your liver cells may live from six months to a year before being replaced. Taste buds have it rough; they are replaced every 10 to 14 days. Healthy cells have the ability to self-destruct when they die or become damaged. Normal, healthy cells also grow and divide in a controlled fashion. When a healthy cell dies, in general, it is replaced by another healthy cell. Changes in a healthy cell can cause it to grow in an uncontrolled fashion, resulting in a tumor or mass.

The Lifespan of Cancer Cells

When a cell does not die as expected, it may continue to grow from abnormally produced cells. Cancer cells do not have a regular lifespan like normal cells. They can grow uncontrollably, often spreading to other areas of the body. This spreading is known as metastasis. Although cancer may spread to other organs, it is always named for the organ where it started. For example, breast cancer that has spread to the brain is called metastatic breast cancer. Some cancers do not occur as a mass or tumor but affect the blood and blood-producing organs, such as leukemia.

Not All Tumors are Cancerous

It is normal to be worried about a lump under your skin, but there are many types of tumors that are benign, or not cancerous. While a tumor can cause problems such as growing large and pushing on organs or tissues, it will not spread to the other organs. If you’re concerned about a lump on or under your skin or other unusual symptoms, talk to your doctor.

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UPMC Hillman Cancer Center at San Pietro FBF offers innovative radiotherapy treatments and stereotactic radiosurgery with advanced protocols of care for patients with oncology diseases.


The Italian division of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center with facilities in Rome (UPMC Hillman Cancer Center at San Pietro FBF, oncology radiotherapy and UPMC Salvator Mundi International Hospital UPMC), Palermo (ISMETT IRCCS, organ transplants and highly specialized therapies and Ri.MED Foundation, research), Chianciano Terme (UPMC Institute for Health, preventive medicine and Medical Gym), Mirabella Eclano (UPMC Hillman Cancer Center at Villa Maria, oncology radiotherapy).


UPMC is an integrated global health enterprise headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. With its high clinical, management, research and training skills, UPMC is one of the leading health systems in the United States. UPMC Hillman Cancer Center UPMC's oncology network offering the latest advances in cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment.

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