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This article was contributed by Chris Smith of Spend It Like Beckham

The aftermath of a cancer diagnosis is a troubling and difficult time. This period can feel even worse when your loved one has been diagnosed.

In the UK, over 55,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. Thankfully, 76% of these people survive and live ten or more years.

Yet, even with these statistics in mind, it's normal to feel helpless, worried, and scared. No doubt, you want to help you loved one in any way. Here are some ways you can help.

Attend Appointments

Life after a cancer diagnosis can be daunting for everyone, but especially for your partner. Keeping up with appointments, treatments, and advice can quickly become overwhelming.

By attending your partner's appointments, you'll stay informed of their condition and provide invaluable support. Take notes of ask to record these sessions to ensure all critical information is remembered. Noting down appointment dates and times is also recommended.

Plus, don't be embarrassed to ask questions. The doctor will understand this is a difficult time for you both, so asking for clarification or more information is expected.

Provide Physical Support

Fatigue is a common symptom for cancer patients. This isn't just normal tiredness either; fatigue is extreme exhaustion that isn't cured with sleep.

This symptom is prevalent in patients receiving medication, chemotherapy, or after surgery. However, it can also occur due to stress, sleep interruption, and mental health problems.

You can support your loved one by helping with physically demanding tasks. These include going shopping, helping around the house, and driving from location to location.

Be a Shoulder to Cry On

It's not just physical support your partner will need. Providing emotional support is crucial for those going through a cancer diagnosis.

It's important to remember that you can't always fix things. Your loved one isn't expecting you to find the cure for cancer or take away all their side effects. Sometimes, all they need is for you just to be there.

Talk with your loved one. Encourage open communication and, most importantly, remember to listen. Turn off all distractions and give your loved one your full undivided attention. Yet, while this support is important, remember you are not a professional. If you are worried about your loved one, don't hesitate to get them professional help.

Accept Your Relationship Will Change

This might be hard to hear, but your relationship with your loved one is bound to change with a cancer diagnosis. This doesn't mean it will change forever, but you should expect the dynamic to be different during the initial diagnosis period.

You will need to take on more of a caregiving role during this time. Things might shift while you help them with physical tasks, keep track of medication, and attend doctor's appointments. While your loved one might have been an independent person, going through a cancer diagnosis could mean they need much more support than you were used to.

If your loved one is a partner, you should expect changes to your usual intimacy. Many women with breast cancer struggle with self-esteem issues and anxiety. This is particularly true with women who receive chemotherapy or have mastectomies. These worries and doubts can impact anyone with breast cancer, however. Comforting and encouraging your loved one will help ease their feelings of discomfort. Remember, this relationship shift won't last forever. As your partner recovers, your relationship will return to how it once was. However, it's vital to help them get back to that place.

Remember to Look After Yourself

Whilst it's important to look after your loved one during their cancer diagnosis, you can't forget about yourself. The saying goes: "you can't pour water from an empty cup".

Although you want to help your loved one, you need to make time for yourself. That could be reading, watching TV, or taking a walk to clear your head. Caring for a cancer patient can be overwhelming, so reset yourself by taking some "me time".

Moreover, don't feel embarrassed to ask for help. Simply confiding in a friend or family member might be enough, but you could also ask them for help with errands. And, as always, professional help is available if you feel like you need it.

Every two minutes, someone in the UK is diagnosed with cancer. Cancer is a medical condition with more than 200 different forms, each with its own symptoms and treatments. We have discussed cancer briefly in our guide to 20 medical conditions which affect older people, but today's article will take a detailed look at the signs of cancer, the importance of early diagnosis, and the various treatments. We'll also be sharing some specific information about the most common forms of cancer, as well as some tips and resources for coping with the illness.

Sadly, 1 in 2 people will develop some form of cancer in their lifetime according to the NHS. With this in mind, it's very important to stay informed. When cancer is diagnosed early, the chances of successful treatment are much higher.

What Is Cancer?

The NHS defines cancer as:

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.

Usually, cancer begins with a lump of cancerous cells (a tumour) in one part of the body. In some cases, cancerous cells can break away from the primary tumour and spread to other parts of the body. This process is known as metastasis.

There is no sure-fire way to prevent cancer completely. However, Cancer Research UK states that 4 in 10 cases of cancer in the UK are preventable. Smoking and eating habits can massively increase the chances of developing the disease, as can over-exposure to pollution and other environmental factors. Perhaps the most effective way to prevent cancer is to quit smoking.

There are hundreds of different types of cancer. The most common types of cancer in the UK are:

For more information about medical conditions which affect older people, read our detailed guide.

The Facts About Cancer: Infographic

Spotting the Signs of Cancer

Although cancer can affect people of all ages, your chances increase as you get older. Therefore, it's important that we know our bodies and can tell when something isn't quite right. There are various different symptoms and signs to look out for.

Perhaps the most common sign is a lump on your body, particularly in areas such as your breasts, armpit, testicles, groin, stomach, or neck. Below are some other symptoms to look out for. Please note: these symptoms may not necessarily mean that you have cancer, but you should get them checked out by a GP regardless.

  • A persistent cough - visit your GP if a cough lasts more than 3 weeks.
  • Breathlessness - especially if it lasts longer than a month or if it is accompanied by a persistent cough.
  • Changes in bowel habits - if you experience blood in your stools, stomach pain, persistent bloating, or diarrhoea for no obvious reason, make an appointment with your GP.
  • Bleeding - this includes blood in your urine, bleeding from your bottom, when you cough, in your vomit, or between periods.
  • A new mole or changes to an existing mole - look out for changes in colour, shape, and size.
  • Mouth or tongue ulcer which won't heal - contact your GP if an ulcer hasn't healed after 3 weeks.

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. Furthermore, this list of symptoms is by no means exhaustive. If you notice any changes in your body, it's always better to be safe than sorry. It's far better to make an appointment and discover it's nothing too serious, rather than delaying a possible diagnosis.

For a more detailed list of cancer warning signs, see the Cancer Research UK website.

Credit to Cancer Research UK

The Importance of Early Diagnosis

Most cancers can be divided into four numbered stages. In the earliest stage, cancerous tumours are small and have not spread beyond the organ where they started. If cancer progresses into later stages before diagnosis, effective treatment can be difficult. Therefore, early diagnosis is hugely important. Getting an accurate diagnosis means that you can receive the proper treatment as soon as possible. This can prevent the condition from increasing in size or spreading around your body. Once cancer spreads, it becomes more difficult to treat and survival chances are generally lower.

Here are just a few examples, provided by Cancer Research UK, of the difference an early diagnosis can make in certain types of cancer:

  • Breast Cancer - More than 90% of people diagnosed at the earliest stage survive their disease for at least five years.
  • Lung Cancer - More than 80% of lung cancer patients will survive for at least a year if diagnosed at the earliest stage, compared to around 15% for people diagnosed at the most advanced stage.
  • Bowel Cancer - More than 9 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 people 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 the disease.

As previously mentioned, there are more than 200 different types of cancer, all of which are diagnosed and treated in different ways. Next, we're going to take an in-depth look at some of the most common forms of the condition in the UK.

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK, with around 150 people receiving diagnoses every day. It is particularly common in women over the age of 50. However, in rare cases. men can develop it too.

About one in seven women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. Fortunately, there is a good chance of recovery if it is detected in its early stages. It is very important for women to check their breasts regularly in order to identify any changes.

Symptoms To Look Out For

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 of your armpits.
  • A change in the size or shape of one or both breasts.
  • Dimpling on the skin of your breasts.
  • A rash around the nipple.
  • A change in the 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, the effectiveness of treatment can depend on early diagnosis.

Click here for more information on breast cancer.

Lung Cancer

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. It is most common among older people, with over-75s representing more than 40% of UK cases. It's comparatively rare in people under the age of 40.

There are two main types of lung cancer:

  • 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 - A less common form of the disease, accounting for 15-20% of cases. Smoking is usually the cause.

Symptoms To Look Out For

In the early stages of lung cancer, there may be no symptoms at all. Symptoms develop as the condition progresses. The main symptoms to look out for include:

  • A persistent, long-lasting cough.
  • Breathlessness.
  • Coughing up blood or phlegm with blood in it.
  • Persistent chest infections.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Weight loss.
  • Fatigue.

Of course, these symptoms could be signs of other conditions besides lung cancer. Overall, it is always best to get them checked out by your GP as quickly as possible.

Click here for more information on lung cancer.

Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer in men in the UK, with more than 40,000 new cases every year. It is particularly common in older men over the age of 75. Cases are on the rise, but this is probably at least partly due to increasing awareness among the population. For a long time, many men have been either unaware of the symptoms or too embarrassed to seek medical examination.

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. Its main function is to help in the production of semen.

Most cases of prostate cancer (90%) start in the outer cells of the prostate. In most cases, these cancers grow extremely slowly and are unlikely to spread, but some prostate cancers can grow quickly and spread to other parts of the body

Symptoms To Look Out For

In general, most people with prostate cancer will not experience symptoms until the tumour is large enough to press against the urethra. Once the condition has grown to this point, you may notice the following symptoms:

  • Needing to urinate more frequently, especially at night.
  • Difficulty in starting to urinate.
  • Needing to rush to the toilet.
  • Straining or taking a long time while urinating.
  • Weak flow.
  • Feeling that your bladder hasn't emptied properly.
  • Blood in urine or in semen.

If you notice any of these symptoms, it doesn't necessarily mean that you have prostate cancer. Regardless, you should make an appointment with your GP to be on the safe side.

Bowel Cancer

This is another common form of cancer, mainly affecting people over the age of 50. There are different sections of the bowel in which the disease can develop. While it's difficult to pinpoint the exact cause, experts believe that a diet high in red and processed meat can increase your risk of developing this condition. Conversely, evidence suggests that a high-fibre diet can decrease your risk.

Symptoms To Look Out For

There are three common symptoms of this condition:

  • Blood in the stools.
  • A change in your bowel habits (going more often, with looser stools)
  • Lower abdominal pain, bloating, or discomfort.

These symptoms are quite common and may not indicate cancer if they disappear after a short while. However, if you experience any of these symptoms for three weeks or more, you should visit your GP.

10 Most Common Cancers in the UK

Here are the ten most common forms of cancer in the UK, according to Cancer Research UK:

  1. Breast
  2. Prostate
  3. Lung
  4. Bowel
  5. Skin
  6. Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
  7. Kidney
  8. Head and Neck
  9. Brain, Other CNS & Intracranial
  10. Pancreas

Treatment for Cancer

Thankfully, there are many different treatments available for different types of cancer.

Surgery

In many cases, surgery can be incredibly effective. The earlier you receive a diagnosis, the more likely surgery will be able to remove any tumours.

The aim of cancer surgery is to remove the tumour as well as some normal tissue around it. The surgeon might also remove some of the lymph nodes near the tumour, in case the cancer has spread to them too.

Radiotherapy

Another common treatment for cancer is radiotherapy. This treatment uses radiation in an attempt to cure cancer, prevent it from returning, or relieve its symptoms. It works by damaging the DNA of the cells. However, it can also damage normal non-cancerous cells. This can cause side effects including tiredness, soreness, and hair loss in the area of treatment. Patients receiving radiotherapy will normally have several different sessions over the course of multiple weeks.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. According to Cancer Research UK, there are currently more than 100 different chemotherapy drugs available with many more in development. Chemotherapy drugs are injected into the bloodstream which allows them to circulate throughout the body. This means the treatment is effective in killing cancerous cells, but it also similarly damages healthy cells. Therefore, the side effects of chemotherapy can be unpleasant. Short term side effects include fatigue, nausea, hair loss, diarrhoea or constipation, and an increased risk of getting infections. A course of chemotherapy will normally be spread over several months.

Coping With Cancer

A cancer diagnosis can be very overwhelming. Inevitably, it will bring up lots of different emotions for both you and your loved ones. It's therefore very important to seek out whatever support you need. Above all, you should remember that there is no right or wrong way to feel.

Your healthcare team may include counsellors or psychologists who you can talk to. There are also several organisations and charities which can offer you support, including:

Click here to read our article on coping with cancer.

How We Can Help

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VAT Exemption

Don't forget that more than 90% of our customers are eligible for VAT exemption. Our services are available without VAT for people who have disabilities or long-term medical conditions such as cancer. For more information, you can read our article about VAT exemption here.

 

 

Editor's Note: This article was updated on 9th March 2022 to reflect current information.

*Credit to Cancer Research UK, NHS, Breast Cancer Care UK and Prostate Cancer UK for figures, images and videos. 

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