CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – 22News takes a closer look at what cancer is, how cancer cells behave differently than normal cells, and what some of the main causes are.

Cancer is a loaded word, it can elicit a strong emotional response, and while most of us know what it means in broad terms, what actually is happening inside your body is difficult to describe.

Cancer cells start out as normal cells. It takes several steps to turn that normal cell into a cancer cell. Cancer cells are shown on an image of clusters of purple cells. The human body has a built-in system of checks and balances that works to correct any error that appears in a normal cell before it turns into a cancer cell. Sometimes the body can self-correct and sometimes it can’t.

“The more divisions a cell makes, the more there is a chance for error. That’s why we usually think of cancer as a disease of aging because as they age, people’s cells are making more and more divisions and there are more opportunities for a mistake to be made along the way,” said Dr. Grace Makari-Judson, Medical Director of Cancer Center and Division Chief of Hematology Oncology at Baystate Health in Springfield.

22News spoke with Dr. Ashraf Kahn, Chair of the Baystate Department of Pathology. He said the lab uses dyes to contrast the cancer cells and then identify them with a microscope. Those purple cells crowding out the normal pink cells are cancerous.

Cancer cells are different from regular cells because they:

  1. Don’t respect boundaries and will invade neighboring cells
  2. Are self-sufficient and can develop their own blood supply to get their own nutrients and oxygen
  3. Have uncontrolled growth

This uncontrolled growth is what makes cancer spread. Cells push their way into other areas even getting into areas of the body that will do the spreading for you.

“One of the ways that cancers spread, besides the neighboring area, is that they can get into the lymphatic system so spread to lymph nodes and also spread to the bloodstream so they can get to any place in the body,” said Dr. Makari-Judson.

One in two men and one in three women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. Nationwide, there are more than 1.9 million new cancer cases and more than 609,000 cancer deaths projected in the United States just this year. Looking closer here in Massachusetts, this year there are 43,000 new cancer cases and 12,500 projected deaths.

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Local News

Alanna Flood is a reporter who has been a part of the 22News team since 2022. Follow Alanna on X @alannafloodnews and view her bio to see more of her work.