Cancer is one of the most well-known and most feared medical conditions around the world, with more than one in three people developing some form of the condition during their lifetime.
This is a condition that has such a huge effect on those diagnosed and their families. There are more than 200 different types of cancer, some of which will be touched upon in this article. Each strain of the condition is diagnosed and treated in different ways.
What is Cancer?
The NHS define cancer in the following way:
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. The four most common types of the condition here in the UK are breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer and bowel cancer.
Around 95% of cases are down to environmental and lifestyle factors. Smoking and eating habits can massively increase the chances of being diagnosed, as can over-exposure to pollution and other environmental factors.
Spotting the Signs
Although anybody can be diagnosed, your chances increase as you get older. It’s important that we know our bodies and can tell when something isn’t quite right. There are various different symptoms and signs that could be linked to the condition.
Perhaps the most common sign is a lump on your body, particularly in areas such as your breasts, armpit, testicles, groin, stomach or neck. Other symptoms to look out for, but may not necessarily mean that you have cancer, include:
- A persistent cough.
- Feeling out of breath more than usual or for a long period of time.
- Changes in bowel habits. For example, blood in your stools, stomach pain, persistent bloating and diarrhoea for no obvious reason.
- Bleeding. This includes in your urine, from your bottom, when you cough, in your vomit and between periods.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- New or changes to an existing mole.
- A loss of appetite.
- Mouth or tongue ulcer which won’t heal.
- Persistent heartburn or indigestion.
- Difficulty swallowing.
- Very heavy, sweaty nights.
- Having a croaky voice or feeling hoarse.
If you suffer from any of these symptoms or notice any changes in your body, you need to see your doctor as soon as possible. It’s always better to get checked out and discover it’s nothing too serious, rather then delaying a possible diagnosis.
Importance of Early Diagnosis
Cancer is more likely to be treated if it has been diagnosed at an early stage. Doing so can prevent the condition from increasing in size or spreading around your body. Once it spreads, it becomes more difficult to treat and a person’s survival chances are lower.
Here are just a few examples, provided by Cancer Research, of the difference an early diagnosis can make in certain types of cancer:
- Breast Cancer – More than 90% of women diagnosed at the earliest stage survive their disease from at least five years, compared to around 15% of those diagnosed in the most advanced stages of the condition.
- Lung Cancer – Around 70% of lung cancer patients will survive for at least a year if diagnosed at the earliest stage, compared to around 14% for people diagnosed at the most advanced stage of the condition.
- Bowel Cancer – More than nine in 10 bowel cancer patients will survive the disease for more than five years if diagnosed at the earliest stage.
- Ovarian Cancer – More than 90% of women diagnosed with the earliest stage ovarian cancer survive their disease for at least five years compared to around 5% for women diagnosed with the most advanced stage of disease.
As previously mentioned, there are more than 200 different types of cancer, all of which are diagnosed and treated in different ways. In today’s article we will take a brief look into some of the most common and well-known forms of the medical condition. Keep checking our website over the next few weeks to read more in-depth articles on certain types of cancer.
This is the most common type of cancer in the UK, with one person being diagnosed every 10 minutes. It is particularly common in women over the age of 50, with 80% of breast cancers occurring in women over this age.
About one in eight women are diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime, however there is a good chance of recovery if it is detected in its early stages. It is for this reason that women check their breasts regularly for any changes.
Breast cancer commonly starts in the cells that line the ducts of the breast. Here are the symptoms that you need to look out for:
- A lump or swelling in either or your armpits.
- A change in the size or shape of one or both breasts.
- A rash around the nipple.
- A dimpling on the skin of your breasts.
- A change in shape or feel of the breast.
If you notice any of these symptoms please visit your doctor as soon as possible. As we have mentioned, recovery can be dependent on early diagnosis.
Your doctor will examine you before sending you to a breast cancer specialist clinic. Here you’ll be invited to have a mammogram, which is an X-ray of your breasts. You may also have a breast ultrasound, which creates a picture of the breast tissue.
If diagnosed, your doctor will give this diagnosis a stage. This describes the size of the cancer and how far it has spread, along with a prediction of the outlook.
This is an area which is not yet fully understood, which is why doctors are unable to say why one woman may develop breast cancer and why another may not. There are however some risk factors and lifestyle choices which may increase your risk. These include:
- Your age. About eight out of 10 cases of breast cancer occur in women over 50.
- Previous breast cancer or type of lump.
- Dense breast tissue – as there are more cells that can become cancerous.
- Hormones and hormone medicine.
- Being overweight.
There are several treatment options available, but your doctors will use your criteria to determine which is the best option. He or she will look at the stage and grade of your cancer, your general health and whether or not you’ve gone through menopause.
Usually, the first type of treatment used in surgery. The type you have will depend on the type of breast cancer that you’ve been diagnosed with. This will commonly involve either a mastectomy, which is the removal of the breast, or a lumpectomy, which is the removal of the cancer from the breast.
If you have a large tumour, or if the cancer has spread, you’ll most likely require chemotherapy before surgery. You might also have it if you have a type of breast cancer called inflammatory breast cancer.
Doctors also use chemotherapy after surgery when there is a risk that cancer cells could have spread to another part of the body.
Around 44,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer every year in the UK, making it one of the most common types of the disease. This form of the medical condition begins in the windpipe, also known as the trachea, the main airway (bronchus) or the lung tissue.
There are two different types of this, the primary form of lung cancer, which are:
- Non-small-cell lung cancer – Accounting for more than 80% of cases. This can be either squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma or large-cell carcinoma.
- Small-cell lung cancer – Less common but usually spreads faster than non-small-cell cases.
It is mainly older people who are affected by lung cancer, and is commonly diagnosed in people aged between 70 and 74-years-old. It’s quite rare in people under the age of 40.
Symptoms develop as the condition progresses, which means there may be no signs in the early stages. The main symptoms to look out for include:
- Coughing up blood.
- A long-standing cough which gets worse.
- A cough that doesn’t go away after two or three weeks.
- Persistent chest infections.
- Being short of breath.
- Loss of appetite.
- Weight loss.
Of course, having these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean that you have lung cancer but you should still visit your GP as soon as possible for a check-up.
When you visit your GP, you will be asked about your general health and which of the aforementioned symptoms you have been suffering from. The doctor may ask to do a blood test to rule of possible causes of your symptoms, and you may also be asked to breathe into a spirometer – a device which measures how much air you breathe in and out.
There are a number of different tests and scans available to help diagnose the condition. Examples include:
- Chest X-Ray – Usually the first test to be done. Most lung tumours will appear on the X-Ray as a white-grey mass, although this cannot confirm that it is a cancerous tumour.
- CT Scan – This creates a detailed image of the inside of your body. Using an injection of contract medium liquid, your lungs will show-up clearly on the scan.
- PET-CT Scan – If your original CT scan show that you have cancer at an early stage, you will have a PET-CT Scan. This scan shows where there are active cancer cells in your body.
- Bronchoscopy – This takes place if your cancer is in the central part of your chest. A small sample of cells will be removed from the inside of your lungs using a thin tube.
After all tests are complete, it’s possible for your doctors to work out which stage your cancer is. This will affect the types of treatment you have and whether it’s possible to completely cure the cancer.
As most people are already aware, the most common cause of lung cancer is smoking. This habit accounts for over 85% of cases, due to all of the toxic substances being inhaled by the smoker. Sadly, breathing in other people’s smoke is linked to around one in five lung cancers in non-smokers.
On smoking, Cancer Research say:
Even light or occasional smoking increases the risk of lung cancer. But your risk increases more the longer you smoke and the more you smoke. Stopping smoking reduces your risk. The sooner you stop, the sooner your risk goes down.”
Alongside cigarettes, other tobacco products such as cigars and pipe tobacco also increase the risk. Smoking cannabis has also been linked to an increased risk. Other known causes of the condition include:
- Radon Gas – Responsible for around 3% of all lung cancer deaths in England. Radon is a natural radioactive gas that comes off tiny amounts of uranium present in all rocks and soil.
- Chemicals in the workplace – People exposed to chemicals such as asbestos, silica and diesel engine exhaust fumes are at an increased risk.
- Air Pollution – The risk depends on the amount of pollution you’re exposed to on a daily basis.
- Previous Lung Conditions – Your risk is higher if you’ve had conditions such as tuberculosis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
- Family History – Your risk of lung cancer is higher if you have a close relative (such as a parent or sibling) who has had the condition.
As previously mentioned, treatment will vary depending on the type, size, position and stage of your cancer. Your cancer team will make recommendations, but the final decision will be yours.
If you have the common ‘non-small-cell lung cancer’, and you’re in good health, then you’ll most likely go through surgery to remove the cancerous cells. This would then be followed up by a course of chemotherapy to destroy an cancer cells that may have remained in your body.
If surgery isn’t an option due to your general health, and the cancer hasn’t spread too far, radiotherapy will usually be recommended instead. If the cancer has spread too far for surgery or radiotherapy to be effective, chemotherapy is recommended.
For small-cell lung cancer, treatment is usually given in the form of chemotherapy – either on its own or alongside radiotherapy. Due to the fact that the cancer has already spread to other areas of the body before diagnosis, surgery is not usually used.
This is the most common cancer in men in the UK, with more than 40,000 new cases being diagnosed every year. It is particularly common in men aged 70 and over, with over 50% of all cases. The issue with this condition is that many men don’t understand or know what the prostate is and are too embarrassed to get checked out.
For those who may be unaware, the prostate is a small gland at the base of the bladder. It starts out as the size of a walnut but gets bigger as men get older. It’s main function is to help in the production of semen.
Most cases of prostate cancer (90%) start in the out glands of the prostate, known as acinar adenocarinomas, grow extremely and are not likely to spread.
Normally there won’t be any symptoms until the cancer has grown large enough to put pressure on the urethra. Once this point has been reached, symptoms may include:
- Needing to urinate more frequently, often during the night.
- Difficulty in starting to pee.
- Needing to rush to the toilet.
- Straining or taking a long time while urinating.
- Weak flow.
- Feeling that your bladder hasn’t emptied properly.
Your GP will take a urine sample will be taken to check for infection, take a blood sample to test your level of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) and/or examine your prostate via a digital rectal examination (DRE).
The production of PSA can increase due to prostate cancer, so this test looks for raised levels in the blood that may be a sign of the condition in the early stages. More than 65% of men with a raised PSA level will not have cancer, as PSA levels rise in all men as they get older.
During a DRE, your doctor can check the rectum to feel if the surface of the glad has changed. Prostate cancer can make the gland hard and bumpy. However, in most cases, the cancer causes no changes to the gland and a DRE may not be able to detect the cancer.
After these tests, and other criteria which will be discussed with your GP, you will be referred to hospital if you are at risk. Commonly, you may have a transrectal ultrasound-guided biopsy (TRUS). The NHS explain:
During a TRUS biopsy, an ultrasound probe (a machine that uses sound waves to build a picture of the inside of your body) is inserted into your rectum. This allows the doctor or specialist nurse to see exactly where to pass a needle through the wall of your rectum to take small samples of tissue from your prostate.”
As a reminder, all men over the age of 50 can take a free PSA test.
Currently it is not known what causes the condition. However, a number of factors may increase the risk:
- Age – As we know, your risk increases as you get older.
- Ethnic Group – Men of African-Caribbean and African decent have a higher risk.
- Family History – Having a brother or father who had the condition under the age of 60 may increase your risk.
- Obesity – Recent studies show that there may be a link.
- Not Exercising – Studies show that those who exercise have a lower risk.
- Poor Diet – Evidence suggests that a diet high in calcium is linked to an increased risk.
To avoid unnecessary procedures and complications, ‘active surveillance’ or ‘watchful waiting; will be suggested. This involves keeping an eye on the condition and only acting if it shows signs of getting worse or causing symptoms.
When treatment is necessary, the aim is to cure or control the disease so it doesn’t shorten life expectancy and affects everyday life as little as possible. As with most types of this disease, your doctors will identify the stage at which it is at.
Actual procedures include:
- Radical Prostatectomy – This is the surgical removal of your prostate gland.
- Radiotherapy – Uses radiation to kill cancerous cells. This treatment is an option for curing localised prostate cancer and locally-advanced prostate cancer.
- Brachytherapy – A form of radiotherapy where the radiation dose is delivered inside the prostate gland.
Visit the NHS website for further details about these and other treatment options.
This form of the disease begins in the large bowel (colon) or rectum, and is most common in people over the age of 60. The colon is the first part of the large bowel and is made up of four sections, all of which can be affected by cancer.
Bowel cancers begin in the innermost layer (lining) of the bowel walls and can spread into the bladder, womb or prostate gland.
There are three common symptoms of this condition:
- Persistent blood in the stools.
- Persistent change in your bowel habits (going more often, with looser stools)
- Persistent lower abdominal pain, bloating or discomfort.
The term persistent is key as these symptoms are quite common and may not mean cancer if they disappear after a short while. If you feel like you’ve suffered from such symptoms for a long time you should visit your GP.
Your doctor will ask you to talk about your symptoms and whether or not you have a family history of the condition. Commonly your doctor will conduct a DRE and an examination on your abdomen. This is a way of checking for any lumps in your tummy or back passage.
If your diagnosis is uncertain, you’ll be referred to hospital for further tests. Options include a flexible sigmoidoscopy (examination of back passage and part of your large bowel) and two examinations of the colon known as an colonoscopy or computerised tomography (CT) colonography.
After all tests have been completed, it’s usually possible to determine the stage of your cancer.
Although there is no exact known cause of the condition, there are several factors which may increase your risk:
- Age – Almost 18 out of 20 cases are diagnosed in people over 60 in the UK.
- Family History – Having a parent or sibling who had the condition under the age of 50.
- Diet – Evidence suggests a diet high in red and processed meat can increase your risk.
- Smoking – As with most forms of the disease, smoking increases the risk.
- Obesity – Linked to an increased risk, particularly in men.
- Inactivity – Try and take part in physical activity to lower your risk.
Treatment will depend on the part of your bowel which has been affected and how far the disease has spread. Usually, surgery is the main cause of treatment and may be combined with chemotherapy, radiotherapy or biological procedures.
If it’s detected early enough, treatment can cure bowel cancer and stop it coming back. Unfortunately, a complete cure isn’t always possible and there’s sometimes a risk that the cancer could recur at a later stage.
Cancer qualifies you for VAT Exemption when you order a personal alarm system from Lifeline24. HMRC state that a product which has been “designed or adapted for a disability” qualifies for VAT exemption.
To qualify for VAT Exemption, you need to have a long-term illness, a terminal illness or a disability.
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