What is Carcinoma?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

Carcinoma is a medical term used to describe a malignant or cancerous tumor. One of the four major types of tumor, carcinoma is the most commonly seen variety in human beings, able to grow nearly anywhere in the body. Some varieties of this tumor can be treated and even removed with the application of radiation, chemotherapy, drug therapy, and surgery. Unfortunately, not all stages and kinds of carcinoma are treatable and it can be fatal in some cases.

Ductal carcinomas develop in the milk production systems of females.
Ductal carcinomas develop in the milk production systems of females.

This type of malignant tumor can arise almost anywhere in the body because it invades epithelial cells. These cells line most of the surfaces in the body, resting on connective tissue and providing the building blocks for many glands. Epithelial cells are widespread throughout the body, found in the reproductive, urinary, digestive, lymphatic, nervous, and respiratory systems, as well as throughout the skin system, parts of the eyes and nose, and in blood vessels. If these cells become damaged or mutated in some fashion, a cancerous tumor can form.

Adenocarcinoma can be found in the female reproductive organs.
Adenocarcinoma can be found in the female reproductive organs.

There are several methods of defining types of carcinoma; since there are so many variations the tumor can take, understanding the differences can be somewhat confusing and contradictory. Basal cell carcinomas are responsible for many cases of skin cancer, resulting from cellular damage due to overexposure to the sun. Squamous cell carcinomas also cause skin cancer, but tend to be more invasive and occur more frequently than basal cell varieties. Adenocarcinoma grows in the glands, and may affect many different organs in the body, including the lungs, colon, and reproductive organs. Other types, such as ductal varieties, may originate in the milk production system of females, resulting in breast cancer.

Squamous cell carcinoma is a skin cancer commonly found on areas of the body that are frequently exposed to sunlight.
Squamous cell carcinoma is a skin cancer commonly found on areas of the body that are frequently exposed to sunlight.

Some tumors are classified by their progression and level of invasiveness. Medical professionals may describe the severity of the tumor by its stage, with stage one being the earliest form and stage four generally being the most progressed. Size, shape, location and the appearance of spreading to other organs help define the stage. Almost all types of this tumor have potential to metastasize, or spread, causing other tumors throughout the body. Tumors that are caught early are usually aggressively treated to prevent metastasis, but treatment is still possible even after the condition has spread throughout the body.

Smokers may be more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma than non-smokers.
Smokers may be more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma than non-smokers.

Although cancer remains a frightening word, advanced medical treatment options do provide some hope for people afflicted with a tumor or other sign of cancer. Surgery, radiation, and drug therapy can all help increase chances of recovery and survival, though these chances are often markedly increased if the tumor is caught early. Although it is not always possible to prevent cancer from occurring, understanding family medical history and having regular medical check-ups and screenings can help catch a carcinoma right away.

Adenocarcinoma comprises 40 percent of all lung cancer cases.
Adenocarcinoma comprises 40 percent of all lung cancer cases.
Some forms of carcinoma can be treated with chemotherapy.
Some forms of carcinoma can be treated with chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy and radiation treatment may cause hair loss in some patients.
Chemotherapy and radiation treatment may cause hair loss in some patients.
Research indicates that excessive exposure to the sun can trigger basal cell carcinoma.
Research indicates that excessive exposure to the sun can trigger basal cell carcinoma.
Some types of carcinoma may be treated with radiation therapy.
Some types of carcinoma may be treated with radiation therapy.
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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Discussion Comments

anon258194

I know someone who was diagnosed with HPV Types- 16, 18, 64, 33, 35, 39, 45, 51, 56, 58, 59, 68 in 2006 and never went back for a pap smear.

They recently broke out in a rash only on the neck, chest and arms two weeks ago that was red, did not itch or hurt and looked like hives but will not go away.

Finally they went to the doctor and he said it was a rash from a viral infection, not a flu/sinus infection. He prescribed prednisone for a week and a half. What are the chances this could be cervical cancer? --confused and worried

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