NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms

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The NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms features 7,804 terms related to cancer and medicine.

Browse the dictionary by selecting a letter of the alphabet or by entering a cancer-related word or phrase in the search box.

cell
(sel)
In biology, the smallest unit that can live on its own and that makes up all living organisms and the tissues of the body. A cell has three main parts: the cell membrane, the nucleus, and the cytoplasm. The cell membrane surrounds the cell and controls the substances that go into and out of the cell. The nucleus is a structure inside the cell that contains the nucleolus and most of the cell’s DNA. It is also where most RNA is made. The cytoplasm is the fluid inside the cell. It contains other tiny cell parts that have specific functions, including the Golgi complex, the mitochondria, and the endoplasmic reticulum. The cytoplasm is where most chemical reactions take place and most proteins get made. The human body has more than 30 trillion cells.

EnlargeDrawing showing a cell containing organelles, including the nucleus (contains DNA), the nucleolus, Golgi complex, mitochondria, and endoplasmic reticulum. Also shown are the cell membrane and a membrane receptor.

Parts of a cell. A cell is surrounded by a membrane, which has receptors on the surface. A cell has several small structures inside it, including the nucleus, mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum, and Golgi complex. These all have specific functions in the cell.