When cancer spreads

Is it simply recreating cells from one organ, all through another? If, say stomach cancer were to spread to another part of the digestive tract (purely for example) would I end up with a big bunch of stomach cells rapidly multiplying through my intestines say (again, purely for example, I’m not aware of the mechanics).

And how does cancer kill? Does it basically just squeeze out the rest of the body for blood and space?

In simple terms, yea. It is uncontrolled growth and division of a cell line (or other cell lines). In fact, it is this which makes it very useful sometimes to make cytology/histopathology diagnosis.

From the animal side (the basic cell path is similar across species), for example, say a doctor aspirates a tumor in the leg of an animal. Sends it off for clinical pathologist to read it (or is savvy and can read it). Sees a bunch of round cells with purple granules under the microscope. Now, rarely is skin lumpy bumpy, and even then, you shouldn’t see lots of round cells with purple dots in them when you poke them. The doctor can then do a clinical diagnosis of mast cell tumor and proceed accordingly.

I’ll leave human cancer to the human doctors, but in the animal side (suspect same or similar in the other side), many tumors compete with the surrounding normal tissue for oxygen, nutrients, and waste disposal. They may also secrete molecules that can alter normal metabolic functions and screw up the patient’s metabolism. Then can also, just by being there (or spreading), affect important things like food absorption, digestion, respiration, cardiac blood flow, intracraneal pressure, hormone manufacturing and distribution, etc. They may cause the tissue to be more fragile and prone to ulcers, fractures, infection, etc.

Most definitely true. There is a type of human cell line commonly used in research, called HeLa cells, named for Helen Lackly (sp?), from whose uterine carcinoma they were originally harvested. They’ve be used in research since the mid-1940’s, these little uterus cancer cells – except in the the 1990’s, someone bothered to look at the cellular tags, and found that they were liver carcinoma cells. Helen had liver cancer, that spread to her uterus, not the other way around, and no one knew for 50 years.

Thus, it would be more appropriate to describe this as “metastatic liver cancer of the uterus”, right?

Those particular technical terms are very similar to how the paper described the finding, yes.

Thanks, Arkcon, that’s what I thought. So the answer to part one of the OP could be “yes”, and what s/he described in the hypothetical is “metastatic stomach cancer of some other part of the digestive system.”

Just because this term hasn’t entered the thread yet, differentiation is often used to describe the extent to which the tumor resembles the site of origin. As a very rough guide, some of the most aggressive tumors are the ones which are least differentiated.

I think I remember a documentary about that, her cells ended up as far away as Russia, where they had gone after being illegally obtained (IIRC).

Much, if not all, of the whole story is at wikipedia, with citations, suitably balanced from all points of view. Here’s what I’d heard, from teachers at school. It may not match the interviews posted online. Hopefully, my caveats here are adequate, for a touchy subject.

When the Doctor excised the tumor, he asked if she would let him keep it for research. She said yes, and signed a release, and got some money. Or maybe not. It depends on who you ask. At any rate, HeLa cells became the standard for human genetic and cancer research, traded from lab to lab, bought and sold by major chemical suppliers. Then, her family wanted a cut. They may not have gotten enough of one, because they added a wrinkle – as parts of Helen, are spread around the world, she isn’t completely buried yet, and that puts her soul in Limbo. They want all HeLa cells destroyed, or failing that, a real big cash settlement. Dunno how it worked out in the end.

Whenever I worked with HeLa cells, and I had to disinfect and then dispose of them, I always said a prayer for Helen Lackley. She was nice enough to help me learn some science, and as a piece of her, deserved the same respect as if I found her coffin had popped up unexpectedly. And I was pretty darn glad to find out I was working with a cancerous chunk of her liver, uterine cancer always seemed so … personal.

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