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How our body makes new cells

Our body is made up of millions of cells. These cells go through life cycles where they grow and divide to make more cells, and then die when they are old and damaged, and are no longer needed.

Each cell contains DNA which is made up of genes. Genes tell the cells how to behave, when to divide to make new cells, and when to die. When a cell divides, it is an exact copy of the original cell with the same DNA and genes.

Benign tumours

Sometimes healthy cells can divide, and instead of dying when they are supposed to, they create an abnormal mass of tissue/lump. These are called benign (non cancerous) tumours and do not spread into other tissues in the body. Examples are warts, skin tags or polyps.

Malignant tumours

Sometimes, genes can become damaged or mutated and so they are no longer able to tell the cells how to properly divide, behave and die. These cells can then divide creating more cells with damaged genes. This group of damaged or mutated cells is called a malignant (cancerous) tumour. The cells with damaged genes use up the body’s resources, such as energy and nutrients, that would normally be used by the healthy cell to perform its function. This causes a strain on the healthy cells and the organs that they make up.

What causes genes to become damaged?

Genes can be damaged by carcinogens which are present in things like cigarettes and some chemicals. Sometimes the gene mutation is hereditary and passed down from parent to child. Sometimes it is unknown how the genes have become damaged.

What does metastasis mean?

Damaged cells sometimes stay in the same place which is known as primary cancer, but sometimes they spread (metastasise) to other parts of the body through the blood stream or lymph fluid. This is known as metastasis or secondary cancer.

What are gut cancers?

Gut cancers, which are also known as gastro-intestinal cancers, are cancers of the digestive system. Gut cancers can include cancers of the oesophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder and bile ducts, bowel, and anus.

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