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Overview

There are over two hundred different types of cancer, each with different types of diagnosis and treatment. Cancer can affect all individuals irrespective of age. It is a condition where cells in a specific part of the body reproduce at an uncontrollable rate. These cancerous cells can invade and destroy the surrounding healthy tissue, including the organs. Indeed, cancer is not a single disease with a single type of treatment.

Some cancers include, anal cancer, bile duct cancer, bladder cancer, bone cancer, bowel cancer, brain tumour (high grade), brain tumour (low grade/ mixed), breast cancer (female), breast cancer (male), cervical cancer, eye cancer, gall bladder cancer, head and neck cancer, hodgkin’s lymphoma, Kaposi sarcoma, kidney cancer, laryngeal cancer, leukaemia (acute), leukaemia (chronic), liver cancer, lung cancer, lymphoma, mesothelioma, mouth cancer, multiple myeloma, nasopharyngeal cancer, neuroendocrine tumours, non-hodgkin’s lymphoma, nose and sinus cancer, oesophageal cancer, ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, retinoblastoma, skin cancer (malignant melanoma), skin cancer (non- melanoma), stomach cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid cancer, uterine cancer, vaginal cancer, vulval cancer.

In the UK 331,487 people were diagnosed with cancer in 2011. Cancers of the breast, lung, prostate and bowel account for over half, (54%) of all new cancer cases in the UK in 2011. Cancer survival in the UK has doubled in the last forty years. It is anticipated fifty percent of adult cancer patients diagnosed in 2010-2011 in England and Wales are predicted to survive ten or more years.

Causes of cancer

All individuals have a risk of developing cancer at some point in their life time. However, there are certain risk factors that can increase the risk and chances of developing the disease. For example:

  • Age - The older someone becomes the greater the chance of developing cancer.
  • Carcinogens - A carcinogen can damage a cell and increases the chance of it being a cancerous cell. The greater the exposure to a carcinogen, the greater the risk. Examples include: Tobacco. Smokers are more likely to develop cancer of the lung, mouth, throat, oesophagus, bladder and pancreas. Smoking is estimated be responsible for 1 in 4 of all cancers. If a smoker stops smoking the chances of this are reduced. Workplace chemicals for example asbestos, benzene, formaldehyde. If someone has worked with these chemicals without protection they have a greater chance of developing cancer.
  • Lifestyle factors - If someone eats lots of fruit and vegetables they reduce their risk of developing certain cancers. This is because fruit and vegetables contain antioxidants. Eating a lot of fatty foods can increases the risk of developing certain cancers. The risk of developing certain cancers is also increased by factors such as obesity, lack of regular exercise, drinking too much alcohol and eating a lot of red meat.
  • Radiation - Radiation is also a carcinogen. For example, exposure to radioactive materials can increase the risk of certain cancers. Excessive sun exposure and sunburn increases the risk of developing skin cancer.
  • Infection - Some viruses and bacteria are linked to certain cancers. For example persistent infection with hepatitis B virus or hepatitis C can increase the risk of developing liver cancer. Another example is of the bacteria Helicobacter pylori and its link to stomach cancer. However, most viruses and viral infections are not linked to cancer.
  • Immune system - Individuals with a poor immune system have a greater chance of developing certain cancers. For example, patients with AIDS, or those on immunosuppressive therapy.
  • Genetics - Certain cancers have a strong genetic link.

Signs and symptoms of cancer

It is important to be aware of any of the changes below that may occur to the body. Whilst this may not mean cancer, it could be a sign of another illness. Common signs indicating possible cancer are:

  • Lump on your breast
  • Lump rapidly increasing in size elsewhere on the body
  • Cough lasting for over three weeks
  • Blood in sputum
  • Blood in stools
  • Diarrhoea or constipation for no obvious reason
  • Pain in the abdomen or anus
  • Blood in urine
  • Blood in vomit
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • A mole bigger than 7mm in diameter
  • A mole with irregular border or jagged edges
  • A mole that is itchy, crusty or bleeding
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