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Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 4 minutes read

Cancer occurs when cells in the 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 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 US are breast, prostate, lung, and bowel cancer, but there are many other types of cancer.

Approximately 40% of people will develop cancer in their lifetime, which is a scary fact, but the treatments for cancer have improved tremendously over the years. Many cancers can 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 tumor size, whether it has spread, and 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 tumor is larger but hasn't spread. In Stage 3, the cancer is larger and has spread to nearby areas. Stage 4 is when the cancer has spread to other body parts and is known as metastatic cancer.

What are the different treatment options?

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 from 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 its growth or improve quality of life by shrinking the cancer to improve symptoms.

When should I see my doctor?

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, and 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 in their testicles regularly.

What will the doctor do?

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.

Am I fit for work?

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.

Related topics

Read about: Cervical cancer

Read about: Bowel cancer

Read about: Anal cancer

Read about: Bladder cancer

Read about: Prostate cancer

Read about: Kidney cancer

Read about: Pancreatic cancer

Read about: Lung cancer

Read about: Melanoma (skin cancer)

Read about: SCC (non-melanoma skin cancer)

Read about: Sarcoma

Read about: Lipoma

Read about: Breast cancer screening

Read about: Esophageal cancer

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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