Cancer occurs when cells in our body multiply out of control, producing lots of abnormal cells. These abnormal cells don't function like they should and can invade tissues or organs and can sometimes spread to other parts of the body. Different cancers are due to different types of cells multiplying out of control. The most common types in the UK are breast, prostate, lung and bowel cancer, but there are many other types of cancer.
Up to 50% of people will develop cancer in their lifetime, which is a scary fact but the treatments for cancer have improved massively over the years. Many cancers are able to be cured completely, particularly if caught early, so it’s important to know about the signs to look out for and to seek medical advice early if you notice these.
Any cancer fits into four stages, depending on the size of the tumour and whether it has spread and by how far. These are used to guide what treatment would be best. in Stage 1, the cancer is small and has not spread anywhere. Stage 2 is when the cancer is larger but hasn't spread. In Stage 3, the cancer is larger and has spread to areas close by. Stage 4 is when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body and is known as metastatic cancer.
There are many ways of treating cancer and what is chosen will depend on the type of cancer, the area it is in, the stage of the cancer, and most importantly, the patient’s choice and wishes. The options range from surgery (where a surgeon cuts out all or part of the cancer), chemotherapy (strong medication is given to kill cancer cells and stop them multiplying), radiotherapy (which uses radiation targeted at the cancer cells in order to kill them), and newer treatments such as immunotherapy (amplifying the immune system to attack the cancer). Treatment could be one or a combination of these and the aim may be to cure the cancer, slow the growth or improve quality of life by shrinking the cancer to improve symptoms.
Potential signs of cancer are any unexplained changes to your body. This could be any lumps, unexplained bleeding in the urine, stool or when coughing, changes to your bladder or bowel habits or more subtle changes such as unexplained tiredness, weight loss, night sweats or pain in your bones. If you notice any of these changes or something just doesn’t feel right, you should see your doctor. It is best to seek medical advice as soon as you notice these changes as if it is cancer, the earlier it is caught the better.
For women, it is important to check your breasts regularly for lumps or changes. Men should check for lumps on their testicles regularly.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and how long you have been experiencing them, your medical history and your family’s medical history. They may examine you and do blood tests. You may be sent for scans of the area of concern or referred directly to a specialist team.
The ability to work will depend on your symptoms, stage of cancer and what treatment you are undergoing. Your doctor will help you decide whether you are fit for work or if there are any modifications that would benefit you.
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