What is cancer?
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. 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 doctor 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.
How common is cancer?
Cancer is a common condition.
The most common types of cancer are:
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.
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 doctor so they can investigate.
Other potential signs and symptoms of cancer are outlined below.
Lump in your breast
See your doctor 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 doctor will refer you to a specialist for tests if they think you may have cancer.
Coughing, chest pain and breathlessness
You should visit your doctor 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 doctor straight away if you experience these types of symptoms.
Changes in bowel habits
Go to see your doctor 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
You should also go to see your doctor 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
Go to see your doctor 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 doctor 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.
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