- Overview of Cancer
- Signs and symptoms of Cancer
- A to Z Directory of cancer-related support groups or organisations
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.
1 in 2 people will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime. In the UK, the four most common types of cancer are:
There are more than 200 different types of cancer, and each is diagnosed and treated in a particular way. You can find links on this page to information about other types of cancer.
Spotting signs of cancer
Changes to your body's normal processes or unusual, unexplained symptoms can sometimes be an early sign of cancer.
Symptoms that need to be checked by a doctor include:
- a lump that suddenly appears on your body
- unexplained bleeding
- changes to your bowel habits
But in many cases, your symptoms will not be related to cancer and will be caused by other, non-cancerous health conditions.
Read more about the signs and symptoms of cancer.
Reducing your risk of cancer
Making some simple changes to your lifestyle can significantly reduce your risk of developing cancer.
Surgery is the first treatment to try for most types of cancer, as solid tumours can usually be surgically removed.
Two other commonly used treatment methods are:
- chemotherapy - powerful cancer-killing medicines
- radiotherapy - the controlled use of high-energy X-rays
Other cancer pages on the NHS website
The Health A-Z covers many different types of cancer:
- Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia
- Acute myeloid leukaemia
- Anal cancer
- Bile duct cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Bone cancer
- Bowel cancer
- Brain tumour (cancerous)
- Brain tumour (non-cancerous)
- Breast cancer (female)
- Breast cancer (male)
- Carcinoid tumours
- Cervical cancer
- Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia
- Chronic myeloid leukaemia
- Endometrial cancer
- Ewing sarcoma
- Eye cancer
- Gallbladder cancer
- Hairy cell leukaemia
- Head and neck cancer
- Hodgkin lymphoma
- Kaposi's sarcoma
- Kidney cancer
- Laryngeal cancer
- Liver cancer
- Lung cancer
- Mouth cancer
- Multiple myeloma
- Nasopharyngeal cancer
- Neuroendocrine tumours
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
- Nasal and sinus cancer
- Oesophageal cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Penile cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Skin cancer (melanoma)
- Skin cancer (non-melanoma)
- Soft tissue sarcoma
- Stomach cancer
- Testicular cancer
- Thyroid cancer
- Vaginal cancer
- Vulval cancer
- Womb cancer
It's important to be aware of any new or worrying symptoms.
Although it's unlikely to be cancer, it's important to speak to a GP so they can investigate. Finding cancer early means it's easier to treat.
If your GP suspects cancer, they'll refer you to a specialist - usually within 2 weeks.
Coughing, chest pain and breathlessness
Speak to a GP if you've had a cough for 3 weeks or more.
Symptoms such as shortness of breath or chest pain may also be a sign of a condition such as pneumonia. Speak to a GP right away if you have these types of symptoms.
Changes in bowel habits
Speak to a GP if you've noticed changes in your usual bowel habits and they've lasted for 3 weeks or more.
The types of changes to look out for include:
- tummy discomfort
- blood in your poop
- diarrhoea or constipation for no obvious reason
- a feeling of not having fully emptied your bowels after going to the toilet
- pain in your stomach or bottom (anus)
- your poo is loose, pale or looks greasy
Speak to a GP if you've had bloating for 3 weeks or more.
You should also speak to a GP if you have any unexplained bleeding, such as:
- blood in your urine
- vaginal bleeding between periods
- vaginal bleeding a year or more after the menopause (postmenopausal bleeding)
- bleeding from your bottom
- blood when you cough
- blood in your vomit
Speak to a GP if you notice a lump in your breast or if you have a lump that's noticeably increasing in size elsewhere on your body.
It's important to regularly check your breasts, underarms, groin and testicles for any new lumps or changes.
Speak to a GP if you have a mole that:
- changes shape or looks uneven
- changes colour, gets darker or has more than 2 colours
- starts itching, crusting, flaking or bleeding
- gets larger or more raised from the skin
Any of these changes means there's a chance you have melanoma, a serious type of skin cancer.
Unexplained weight loss
You should also speak to a GP if you've lost a lot of weight over the last couple of months that cannot be explained by changes to your diet, exercise, or stress.
Read about unintentional weight loss.
Tummy or back pain
Speak to a GP if you have pain anywhere in your tummy or back and you're not sure what's causing it. This includes a dull pain that's always there or a sharp pain that comes and goes.
Indigestion and heartburn
Some cancers can give you indigestion, heartburn and acid reflux. This can feel like burning in your chest (heartburn) and make you burp or hiccup more than usual.
Speak to a GP if you get any of these symptoms regularly and are not sure why you're getting them.
Itchy or yellow skin
Speak to a GP if your skin is itchy and your skin or the whites of your eyes turn yellow (jaundice). Your pee may also look darker than usual.
Feeling tired and unwell
With some cancers, the symptoms can be harder to notice. It's important to speak to a GP if you think something is not right or if you keep feeling tired and unwell and you're not sure why.
People at higher risk
It's particularly important to look out for cancer symptoms if:
- you have been diagnosed with a condition that means you're at higher risk of getting cancer
- 2 or more of your close relatives (such as a parent, brother or sister) have had cancer
Who else can help me?
The following links have more useful information about cancer:
- Cancer Research UK: signs and symptoms of cancer
- Macmillan Cancer Support: signs and symptoms of cancer
- National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE): referral for suspected cancer
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