Content Supplied by NHS Choices

Cancer

Cancer is a condition where cells in a specific part of the body begin to reproduce uncontrollably. The cancerous cells can invade and destroy surrounding healthy tissue.

Cancer is a condition where cells in a specific part of the body grow and reproduce uncontrollably. The cancerous cells can invade and destroy surrounding healthy tissue, including organs.

Cancer sometimes begins in one part of the body before spreading to other areas. This process is known as metastasis.

There are over 200 different types of cancer, each with its own methods of diagnosis and treatment. You can find out more about specific types of cancer by using the links on this page.

Spotting signs of cancer

Changes to your body's normal processes or symptoms that are out of the ordinary can sometimes be an early sign of cancer.

For example, a lump that suddenly appears on your body, unexplained bleeding or changes to your bowel habits are all symptoms that need to be checked by a doctor.

In many cases, your symptoms will not be related to cancer and will be caused by other, non-cancerous health conditions. However, it is still important that you see your GP so your symptoms can be investigated.

Read more about the signs and symptoms of cancer.

Reducing your risk of cancer

Making some simple changes to your lifestyle can significantly reduce your risk of developing cancer. For example, healthy eating, taking regular exercise and not smoking will all help lower your risk.

Read more about how a healthy lifestyle can help reduce your chances of developing cancer.

How common is cancer?

Cancer is a common condition. In 2009, 320,467 new cases of cancer were diagnosed in the UK. More than one in three people will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime.

In the UK, the most common types of cancer are:

Cancer treatment

Each specific type of cancer has its own set of treatment methods.

However, many cases of cancer are treated using chemotherapy (powerful cancer-killing medication) and radiotherapy (the controlled use of high energy X-rays). Surgery is also sometimes carried out to remove cancerous tissue.

Waiting times

Accurately diagnosing cancer can take weeks or months. As cancer often develops slowly, over several years, waiting for a few weeks will not usually impact on the effectiveness of treatment.

Patients suspected of having cancer and urgently referred by their GP, should have no more than a two week wait to see a specialist.

In cases where cancer has been confirmed, patients should wait no more than 31 days from the decision to treat to the start of their treatment.

In 2010-11, 95.5% of patients who were urgently referred for suspected cancer were seen by a specialist within 14 days of referral.

In the same period, 98.4% of patients receiving their first treatment for cancer began their treatment within 31 days. For breast cancer, 99.1% of people began their treatment within 31 days of diagnosis.

Cancer services

Find local cancer support services

Find specialist cancer hospitals 



Content Supplied by NHS Choices

Cancer

It is important to be aware of any unexplained changes to your body, such as the sudden appearance of a lump, blood in your urine or a change in your usual bowel habits.

It is important to be aware of any unexplained changes to your body, such as the sudden appearance of a lump, blood in your urine or a change in your usual bowel habits.

These symptoms are often caused by other, non-cancerous illnesses, but it is important you see your GP so they can investigate.

Other potential signs and symptoms of cancer are outlined below. 

Lump in your breast

See your GP if you notice a lump in your breast, or if you have a lump that is rapidly increasing in size elsewhere on your body.

Your GP will refer you to a specialist for tests if they think you may have cancer.

Coughing, chest pain and breathlessness

You should visit your GP if you have had a cough for more than three weeks.

Symptoms such as shortness of breath or chest pain may be a sign of an acute (severe) condition, such as pneumonia (a lung infection). Go to see your GP straight away if you experience these types of symptoms.

Changes in bowel habits

Go to see your GP if you have experienced one of the changes listed below and it has lasted for more than a few weeks:

  • blood in your stools
  • diarrhoea or constipation for no obvious reason
  • a feeling of not having fully emptied your bowels after going to the toilet
  • pain in your abdomen (tummy) or your anus (back passage)
  • persistent bloating

Bleeding

You should also go to see your GP if you have any unexplained bleeding such as:

  • blood in your urine
  • bleeding between periods
  • blood from your back passage
  • blood when you cough
  • blood in your vomit

Moles

Go to see your GP if you have a mole that:

  • has an irregular or asymmetrical shape
  • has an irregular border with jagged edges
  • has more than one colour (it may be flecked with brown, black, red, pink or white)
  • is bigger then 7mm in diameter
  • is itchy, crusting or bleeding

Any of the above changes means that there is a chance you have malignant melanoma (skin cancer).

Unexplained weight loss

You should also go to see your GP if you have lost a lot of weight over the last couple of months that cannot be explained by changes to your diet, exercise or stress.

More information

The following links have more useful information about cancer.

Macmillan: signs and symptoms of cancer

Cancer Research UK: cancer signs and symptoms

NICE guidelines: referral for suspected cancer



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