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What is Cancer?

Cancer is a group of more than 100 different diseases that begin when abnormal cells in the body grow out of control. Normally, cells grow and divide to create new cells as they are needed to keep the body healthy. Sometimes this process of growing new cells does not work properly and cancer forms.

Most cancers are named after the body part or cell where abnormal growth begins. For example, cancer that begins in the breast is called breast cancer, even if it spreads to other parts of the body.

How does Cancer start?

Normal cells become cancer cells because of damage to DNA. DNA is in every cell and directs all its actions. In a normal cell, when DNA gets damaged, the cell either repairs the damage or it dies. In cancer cells, the damaged DNA is not fixed, but the cell does not die like it should. Instead, this cell goes on making new cells that the body does not need.

How does Cancer grow?

Abnormal cells can grow into a mass, or tumor. Not all tumors are cancerous. Tumors can be either malignant (cancerous) or benign (noncancerous). A malignant tumor, or cancer, can spread to other parts of the body and form other tumors.
Some cancers, like leukemia, rarely form tumors. Instead, these cancer cells are in the blood and blood-forming organs and flow through other tissues, where they grow.

Some cancers grow quickly; others may grow slowly over many years.

How can I reduce my Cancer risk?

Cancer risk can be reduced by avoiding tobacco use, eating a balanced diet; maintaining a healthy weight; exercising regularly; getting timely cancer screenings, health assessments and treatment; and, avoiding environmental risks such as the sun or chemicals.

The District of Columbia government sponsors an array of health promotion services and free cancer screening. Additional efforts are being made to increase access to quality care, increase awareness about the importance of timely detection, and improve palliative and end-of-life care.

Cancer Resources

Cancer Control Plan

Cancer in DC Fact Sheets

Striving for Wellness: Comprehensive Cancer Education Tool Kit for Diverse Communities
The Striving for Wellness Program provides comprehensive cancer education for the gay and lesbian, Hispanic, Ethiopian and Vietnamese community. If you are interested in using these materials to educate your community please contact (202) 442-9170.

District of Columbia Cancer Control Programs aim to:

PREVENT early deaths from cancer
PREVENT late cancer diagnosis
PREVENT missed screening opportunities
For All DC Residents

For more information about free prevention, screening, and health services please call the CCCP at (202) 442-9170. 

Contact TTY: 
Office Hours: 
8:15 am – 4:45 pm
Service Location: 

Health, Department of

GIS Address: 
2201 Shannon Place SE