Cancer starts in cells in our body. Cells are tiny building blocks that make up the organs and tissues of our bodies. They divide to make new cells in a controlled way. This is how our bodies grow, heal and repair. Cells receive signals from the body telling them when to divide and grow and when to stop growing. When a cell is no longer needed or can’t be repaired, it gets a signal to stop working and die.

What is Cancer?

Cancer develops when the normal workings of a cell go wrong and the cell becomes abnormal. The abnormal cell keeps dividing making more and more abnormal cells. These eventually form a lump (tumour). Not all lumps are cancerous. Doctors can tell if a lump is cancerous by removing a small sample of tissue or cells from it. This is called a biopsy. The doctors examine the sample under a microscope to look for cancer cells.

A lump that is not cancerous (benign) may grow but cannot spread to anywhere else in the body. It usually only causes problems if it puts pressure on nearby organs. A lump that is cancer (malignant) can grow into nearby tissue. Sometimes, cancer cells spread from where the cancer first started (the primary site) to other parts of the body. They can travel through the blood or lymphatic system. When the cells reach another part of the body, they may begin to grow and form another tumour. This is called a secondary cancer or a metastasis.

Why Cancer Treatment done?

The goal of cancer treatment is to achieve a cure for your cancer, allowing you to live a normal life span. This may or may not be possible, depending on your specific situation. If a cure isn't possible, your treatments may be used to shrink your cancer or slow the growth of your cancer to allow you to live symptom free for as long as possible.

Cancer treatments may be used as:

Primary treatment: The goal of a primary treatment is to completely remove the cancer from your body or kill all the cancer cells.

Any cancer treatment can be used as a primary treatment, but the most common primary cancer treatment for the most common types of cancer is surgery. If your cancer is particularly sensitive to radiation therapy or chemotherapy, you may receive one of those therapies as your primary treatment.

Adjuvant treatment: The goal of adjuvant therapy is to kill any cancer cells that may remain after primary treatment in order to reduce the chance that the cancer will recur.

Any cancer treatment can be used as an adjuvant therapy. Common adjuvant therapies include chemotherapy, radiation therapy and hormone therapy.

Neoadjuvant therapy is similar, but treatments are used before the primary treatment in order to make the primary treatment easier or more effective.

Palliative treatment: Palliative treatments may help relieve side effects of treatment or signs and symptoms caused by cancer itself. Surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and hormone therapy can all be used to relieve symptoms. Other medications may relieve symptoms such as pain and shortness of breath.

Palliative treatment can be used at the same time as other treatments intended to cure your cancer.

The lymphatic system:

The lymphatic system helps to protect us from infection and disease. It also drains lymph fluid from the tissues of the body before returning it to the blood. The lymphatic system is made up of fine tubes called lymphatic vessels that connect to groups of lymph nodes throughout the body.

Lymph nodes (sometimes called lymph glands) are small and bean shaped. They filter bacteria (germs) and disease from the lymph fluid. When you have an infection lymph nodes often swell as they fight the infection.

There are many types of cancer treatment. The types of treatment that you receive will depend on the type of cancer you have and how advanced it is.

Some people with cancer will have only one treatment. But most people have a combination of treatments, such as surgery with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. When you need treatment for cancer, you have a lot to learn and think about. It is normal to feel overwhelmed and confused. But, talking with your doctor and learning about the types of treatment you may have can help you feel more in control.

Common cancers:

Some cancers are very common and others are very rare. The most recent statistics for the UK (from 2011) show that for men the most common cancer is prostate cancer (25% of all cancers in men), followed by lung cancer (14%), colon and rectal cancer (14%) and bladder cancer (4%).

For women, the statistics show that the most common cancers are breast cancer (30%), lung cancer (12%), colon and rectal cancer (11%) and womb cancer (5%).

Nearly a third (30%) of all cancers diagnosed in children are leukaemia.

Teenagers and young people (aged 15-24) are more likely to be diagnosed with a lymphoma (21%) or a germ cell tumour (15%) like testicular cancer.

The most common types of cancer diagnosed in adults aged 25-49 are breast cancer, melanoma, colon and rectal cancer, testicular and cervical cancer.

Lifestyle and cancer:

There are over 200 different types of cancer. We don’t know the cause of most of these, but we know about some of the risk factors that can increase or influence a person’s risk. Increasing age is a risk factor that we can’t do anything about. But we can make lifestyle choices about some of the other risk factors, such as:

  • Stopping smoking
  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Avoid becoming overweight, or if you are overweight, try to reduce your weight
  • Cutting down our alcohol intake
  • Getting regular exercise

We’re getting better at recognising and treating cancer, so today many people with cancer can be cured. Even if a cancer can’t be cured, it can often be controlled with treatment for months or years.

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