Cancer types – what are the different types of cancer?
Cancers can start almost anywhere in the body. They are named and grouped depending on their location and characteristics.
The same cancer can often be described in several different ways.
What are the different cancer types?
Cancers are generally named after the part of the body where they start or the type of tissue they start in, for example:
- skin cancer
- breast cancer
- brain cancer
- lung cancer
- blood cancer.
Each type of cancer can be divided further, usually based on the kind of cell they start in, for example:
- Skin cancers can be basal cell carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas or melanomas (which start in cells called melanocytes).
- Lung cancers can be small lung cell cancers or non-small cell lung cancers.
Cancers can also be described by other characteristics, like whether they have certain receptors on their cells.
What are the different cancer groups?
The different types of cancers belong to two main groups:
- solid tumours
- blood cancers (also called haematological cancers).
Solid tumours include many common cancers like breast cancer, bowel cancer and lung cancer.
A tumour is a lump or swelling, but not all tumours are cancers:
- Benign tumours are not cancers—they can cause problems if they press on nearby tissues or organs, but they don’t spread to other parts of the body.
- Malignant tumours are cancers—they can spread into nearby tissues or to other parts of the body.
Surgery is often used to remove solid tumours, however other treatments like chemotherapy or radiotherapy may be needed if the tumour has spread.
Blood (haematological) cancers
Blood cancers affect the blood, bone marrow or lymphatic system. They include leukaemias, lymphomas and myelomas.
Characteristics of blood cancers include:
- They don’t form solid tumours in the place where they start.
- Most of them start in the bone marrow where blood cells are formed.
- Their cells multiply within the blood or lymphatic system and crowd out the normal cells.
- They stop the normal blood cells from performing their normal functions, like preventing infection or stopping bleeding.
Most blood cancers are treated with chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy to help to bring the cancer under control.