Cancer Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Lindsy Frazer

Dr. Frazer has taught several college level Science courses and has a master's degree in Human Biology and a PhD in Library and Information Science.

Did you know that x-rays are sometimes used to treat cancer? In this lesson, learn what cancer is, what doctors know about the causes of cancer and how cancer is treated.

How Does Cancer Form?

You may know someone who has had cancer or at least heard about it in movies or the news. Cancer is what we call diseases of the body's cells. There are over 200 different kinds of cancer, but they are all caused by the same thing--cells growing out of control.

The human body is made up of trillions of cells, and normally, these cells know when to divide to create more cells and when to stop growing. However, sometimes a cell mutates (genes in the cell change), causing it to lose that ability to stop dividing and multiplying. When this happens, the mutated cells continue to multiply and multiply, causing the disease we call cancer. Cancer cells damage the healthy, normal cells around them, making people sick.

Cancer happens when the cells of the body grow out of control.
Cancer cell growth

Traveling Tumors

Cancer cells usually grow together in a clump called a tumor. Cancer spreads when cells break off of a tumor and move to other parts of the body. These traveling cancer cells continue to grow out of control and can form new tumors. The spread of cancer cells to new parts of the body is called metastasis (pronounced meh-tass-tuh-sis).

Cancer cells can spread through the body and create new tumors.
How cancer spreads

What Causes Cancer?

Doctors and scientists aren't really sure what causes some cells to mutate and grow out of control or why some people get cancer and others don't. What they do know is that cancer is not contagious (spread from one person to another) like the cold or the flu. Cancer is also very rare in kids--only about 1% of all people who have cancer in America are children.

Even though doctors do not know what causes cancer, they do know that some habits can increase your risk of developing cancer. Unhealthy habits like smoking cigarettes or being out in the sun without wearing sunscreen can increase the chances of developing cancer later in life.

Treating Cancer

There are three main treatments for cancer: surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Some patients receive one treatment, while other patients may receive more than one. The treatment plan depends on what kind of cancer a patient has and what stage the cancer is in (how far the cancer has spread in the person's body).


To treat cancer with surgery, a doctor removes all of the cancer cells during an operation. Surgery is the most common cancer treatment, as about 60% of people with cancer will have surgery to treat it.

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