It's a sad fact that most of us have been touched by cancer in some shape or form. Here are the basics that everyone should know.
What is cancer?
When the cells in your body stop growing and dividing at the normal rate, they develop into a lump called a tumour. Tumours can either be benign or malignant. Cancer is the name given to a malignant tumour. There are many different kinds of cancer; one in three people will develop cancer in some form during their lifetime.
What are the most common types?
The most common cancers in the UK are lung cancer, large bowel cancer, prostate cancer and breast cancer. The risks vary with age - a 22-year-old has a one in 240 chance of developing cancer whereas 70% of newly diagnosed cancers occur in people aged 60 or over. Young people are most at risk of having leukaemia, testicular cancer and brain tumours.
Is cancer hereditary?
Your risk of developing cancer may be affected by your family history. People who have lost a relative to cancer are bound to worry about getting it themselves. Your doctor (GP) can help, by getting you to fill out a family history questionnaire. They will use this to determine your likelihood of hereditary risk, and give you further advice.
What are the symptoms?
Cancer symptoms vary enormously, depending on the type of cancer. This is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to diagnose early. GPs are trained to spot symptoms and refer you to a specialist for testing. However, if you have one of the following you should consult your doctor immediately:
- A new or unusual lump anywhere on the body;
- A change in the appearance of a mole or a sore that won't heal;
- A persistent coughing or hoarseness;
- Prolonged constipation or diarrhoea, or both;
- Blood in the stool or urine;
- Persistent and unexplained pain, ache or indigestion;
- Unexplained weight loss.
Treatments vary from watchful waiting to blood and bone marrow transplants. The most common treatment for cancer is chemotherapy, where a patient is given drugs to try to kill the cancer. This may be complimented with radiotherapy, surgery or both.
You can reduce your risk of getting cancer in several ways. These include dietary and lifestyle choices like taking regular exercise, eating less red meat and stopping smoking.
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