Definition of Cancer

  • Cancer is a condition where body cells begin to grow and reproduce uncontrollably, resulting in the formation of a tumour.

Causes and Risk Factors of Cancer

  • Cancer is caused by changes (mutations) in the DNA within cells, which can occur spontaneously or due to exposure to certain risk factors.
  • Risk factors for cancer include exposure to certain chemicals and toxins, radiation, certain viruses, lifestyle factors such as tobacco and alcohol use, poor diet, lack of physical activity and obesity.

Types of Cancer

  • There are many different types of cancer, each characterised by uncontrollable cell growth in different parts of the body. Some examples include lung cancer, breast cancer, leukaemia (a cancer of the blood), and skin cancer.
  • Each type of cancer behaves in a different way, depending upon the type of cells involved and the location in the body.

Stages and Grading of Cancer

  • The stage of cancer refers to how much it has grown and whether it has spread. This is usually given as a number from I to IV, with IV being the most advanced stage.
  • Grading cancer involves a pathologist examining cells from the cancer under a microscope. The grade gives an idea of how quickly the cancer may develop.

Symptoms of Cancer

  • Symptoms of cancer vary widely depending on the type and location of cancer. They can include fatigue, unexplained weight loss, persistent pain, changes in skin, change in bowel or bladder function, persisting cough or hoarseness, and unusual bleeding or discharge.

Diagnosis and Detection

  • Cancer is often diagnosed through medical imaging scans such as x-rays or MRIs, biopsies where a small sample of tissue is taken and checked for cancer cells, or blood tests that can detect certain types of cancer.
  • Early detection greatly improves the chances of successfully treating cancer. Various screening tests, such as mammograms for breast cancer and colonoscopies for bowel cancer, can help with early detection.

Cancer Treatments

  • There are several methods of treating cancer, often used in combination. Common treatments include surgery to remove tumours, radiotherapy which uses radiation to destroy cancer cells, and chemotherapy which employs drugs to kill cancer cells.
  • Other treatment options include immunotherapy (boosting the body’s immune system to fight cancer), targeted therapies (drugs that target specific characteristics of cancer cells), hormone therapy and stem cell transplant.

Impacts of Cancer

  • Cancer can have significant impacts on the physical and mental health of an individual, as well as on their quality of life.
  • Early diagnosis and treatment can significantly improve prognosis and the chance of survival.

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