Cancer occurs when cells – the individual units that make up tissues and organs – in a particular part of the body grow and multiply in an uncontrolled manner. The cancerous cells spread and invade healthy tissues and organs impairing their function. There are more than 200 types of cancer and these can present as a variety of symptoms, but typically a change in appearance or body function might be an indicator, for example a lump or a change in bowel habit. If you notice anything unusual it is always best to get it checked out by your doctor.
Cancer occurs more frequently as we get older. Damage to our genes and cells are more likely as we age and our immune system is not as effective at spotting these errors, so they go unchecked, allowing cancerous cells to take hold. Another reason is that exposure to certain cancer causing substances builds up over a lifetime. Certain cancers can run in families such as breast cancer and for several there is an environmental component, such as exposure to asbestos can cause certain lung cancers and UV light skin cancer. Our lifestyles can have a big impact – we are probably all familiar with the link between smoking and lunch cancer, but excess alcohol, not eating a balanced diet, being overweight and not taking sufficient exercise can all increase our risk of various cancers – but it can take many years for these to take effect.
Treatment depends on the type of cancer and whether it has spread, but usually includes one or a combination of chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery.
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