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With regards to people I know or have read about who live with cancer, most of their symptoms are results of chemotherapy, surgical interventions, etc., which have the goal of eradicating the cancer. Assuming the cancer went untreated,* what kinds of symptoms would the cancer itself lead to, and by what mechanism would it cause death (in most cases)?

Please excuse my ignorance. I know that every cancer is different, and even different cases of a single type of cancer can present differently; so there may be many different answers to this question, but I'm not sure if they eventually lead to the same thing.

*I'm asking purely out of curiosity – I'm not "opposed" to chemotherapy or anything like that.

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closed as too broad by James, rg255, kmm, AliceD, March Ho Jun 3 '16 at 0:47

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • $\begingroup$ Where did you read about what symptoms? And I can assure you, cancers alone have a lot of nasty syndroms and outcomes. $\endgroup$ – Chris May 31 '16 at 7:07
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for the comment--I would believe that for sure, I'm just wondering how specifically the cancer will kill / lead to the nasty symptoms. I'm mostly thinking about a personal case, where someone suffering from AML went through many rounds of chemo and developed a bad infection as a result of immunosuppressants. We didn't hear about symptoms of the cancer simply because the doctors detected it early and (thankfully) didn't let it get to that point.The book I'm reading is "The Emperor of All Maladies" by Siddhartha Mukherjee, which admittedly focuses on the history of cancer treatments. $\endgroup$ – yusufmte May 31 '16 at 9:23
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This is a very general answer to a very general question.

So, in general, cancer occurs when cells stop behaving as they are supposed to. Your body is made by something like 200 different kinds of cells (epithelial cells, neuronal cells, blood cells and so on) working together to maintain the body's functions. If many of those cells stop doing what they are supposed to do then your body will start malfunctioning. Different kinds of malfunctioning will occur depending on what kind and on how many cancer cells will spread throughout your body. This can eventually cause system failures. If your lung cells are malfunctioning, for example, you may expect respiration problems. Often cancerous cells spread all around your body (metastasis) and several tissues and organs will be compromised simultaneously leading to a complex pattern of symptoms. Fatigue, pain, inflammations, and bleeding are common symptoms in many advanced stages of cancer since tissues and organs start to get seriously damaged.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the answer--this explains what I was wondering about. Is it possible for a cancer to interfere relatively small amounts of interference with the function of healthy tissues? For example, with lung cancer, if the other lung would continue to function, or what remains of the healthy tissue of the cancerous lung. In these cases, would it be metastasis that leads to inhibition of vital healthy tissues around the body? Thank you again $\endgroup$ – yusufmte May 31 '16 at 10:26
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, small cancers can pass by unnoticed for a long time, they do not affect the overall function of the tissue or organ. It depends on how spread the cancer is. Indeed, in many cases, people start feeling sick after the cancer is already spread and so the doctors diagnose it when is unfortunately too late to remove it with a simple surgical operation. The problem is that sooner or later cancer will spread, so to eliminate the source of cancerous cells asap is important. $\endgroup$ – alec_djinn May 31 '16 at 10:35

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