What is cancer?

Cancer is a group of many diseases. There are many different types of cancer. Cancer occurs when the human body's production of new cells is too active. Normal adult cells divide only to replace or repair damaged cells. Cancer cells are different because they cannot stop dividing and they spread out of control. Each cancer is named after the part of the body where it starts (for example, breast cancer).

Who Gets Cancer?

No one can predict who will get cancer and who won't. Some cancers run in families. These cancers are called genetic or inherited. Some cancers develop as a result of certain behaviors like smoking, lack of exercise, or a poor diet. In some cancers, chemicals in a workplace setting or in the environment may also play a role.

How Can I Reduce My Chances of Getting Cancer?

You can reduce your chances of getting some cancers by:

  • not smoking or using other tobacco products
  • using sun safe methods such as hats, long-sleeves, long pants and sunscreen
  • eating a healthy diet
  • getting daily exercise

Are There Tests to See If I Have Cancer?

For some types of cancer, there are screening tests (also called early detection tests) that can help find cancer early when it is most treatable. It is always best and strongly recommended to talk to your doctor about which screening test is right for you. Some early detection tests include:

  • the mammogram for breast cancer
  • the Pap test for cervical cancer
  • the stool blood test and colonoscopy for colorectal cancer

For more information about screening tests and guidelines, please visit the Massachusetts Health Quality partners.


This information is provided by the Massachusetts Comprehensive Cancer Prevention and Control Program and the Department of Public Health.