Cancer (cont.)

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What are the different types of cancer?

There are over 200 types of cancer; far too numerous to include in this introductory article. However, the NCI lists several general categories (see list in first section of this article). This list is expanded below to list more specific types of cancers found in each general category; it is not all inclusive and the cancers listed in quotes are the general names of some cancers:

  • Carcinoma: Cancer that begins in the skin or in tissues that line or cover internal organs -- "skin, lung, colon, pancreatic, ovarian cancers," epithelial, squamous and basal cell carcinomas, melanomas, papillomas, and adenomas
  • Sarcoma: Cancer that begins in bone, cartilage, fat, muscle, blood vessels, or other connective or supportive tissue -- "bone, soft tissue cancers," osteosarcoma, synovial sarcoma, liposarcoma, angiosarcoma, rhabdosarcoma, and fibrosarcoma
  • Leukemia: Cancer that starts in blood-forming tissue such as the bone marrow and causes large numbers of abnormal blood cells to be produced and enter the blood -- "leukemia," lymphoblastic leukemias (ALL and CLL), myelogenous leukemias (AML and CML), T-cell leukemia, and hairy-cell leukemia
  • Lymphoma and myeloma: Cancers that begin in the cells of the immune system -- "lymphoma," T-cell lymphomas, B-cell lymphomas, Hodgkin lymphomas, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and lymphoproliferative lymphomas
  • Central nervous system cancers: Cancers that begin in the tissues of the brain and spinal cord -- "brain and spinal cord tumors," gliomas, meningiomas, pituitary adenomas, vestibular schwannomas, primary CNS lymphomas, and primitive neuroectodermal tumors

Not included in the above types listed are metastatic cancers; this is because metastatic cancer cells usually arise from a cell type listed above and the major difference from the above types is that these cells are now present in a tissue from which the cancer cells did not originally develop. Consequently, if the terms "metastatic cancer" is used, for accuracy, the tissue from which the cancer cells arose should be included. For example, a patient may say they have or are diagnosed with "metastatic cancer" but the more accurate statement is "metastatic (breast, lung, colon, or other type) cancer with spread to the organ in which it has been found." For example, a doctor describing a man whose prostate cancer has spread to his bones should say the man has metastatic prostate cancer to bone. This is not "bone cancer," which would be cancer that started in the bone.

Metastatic prostate cancer to bone is treated differently that lung cancer to bone. Both the doctor and the patient should be aware of such differences and use correct terminology, both in speaking about themselves to other people about their condition, as well as when doctors speak to other doctors about a patient. This is an important point of confusion and is worth rereading!

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/21/2014

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