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Kid-Friendly Definition: What is Cancer?

When you’re talking to children about cancer – or you’re offering guidance to parents who want to have the conversation, simple, age-appropriate language is key. Why is mom’s hair falling out? Why is she so tired all the time? Why is it taking so long for her to get better? Cancer is a scary concept – it helps to explain it in terms children can understand and address different topics in small pieces so as not to overwhelm them. has a very clear, child-appropriate explanation that is useful to many Nanny Angel families:

Cancer is actually a group of many related diseases that all have to do with cells. Cells are the very small units that make up all living things, including the human body. There are billions of cells in each person’s body.

Cancer happens when cells that are not normal grow and spread very fast. Normal body cells grow and divide and know to stop growing. Over time, they also die. Unlike these normal cells, cancer cells just continue to grow and divide out of control and don’t die when they’re supposed to.

Cancer cells usually group or clump together to form tumors (TOO-mers). A growing tumor becomes a lump of cancer cells that can destroy the normal cells around the tumor and damage the body’s healthy tissues. This can make someone very sick.

Sometimes cancer cells break away from the original tumor and travel to other areas of the body, where they keep growing and can go on to form new tumors. This is how cancer spreads. The spread of a tumor to a new place in the body is called metastasis (meh-TASS-tuh-sis).