What is cancer and what can we do about it?

What is Cancer?

There are news stories about cancer every day and almost everyone is touched by its effects at some point in their lives. However, it’s actual definition is comparatively less well known. In fact, cancer is the uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in a part of the body. Cancer starts when gene changes make perhaps just one cell begin to grow and multiply too much which may cause a growth called a tumour. Specifically, the body produces extra cells through old cells not dying and/or, unnecessary new cell growth. The surplus of cells forms a mass of tissue is called a tumour. There are at least 200 types of cancer, with the most commonly diagnosed being breast cancer, which is the most prevalent in the UK, despite only affecting females. Following this are lung, prostate and bowel cancer.

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So how can we mitigate the effects of cancer?

One way is to check your body for lumps regularly. If you find anything unusual it is advisable to visit your GP. They may then organize ‘screening’ tests, which are designed to detect cancerous cells in the body. Cervical, breast and bowel screening is offered by the NHS. Helpful information can be found on the NHS ‘Live Well’ site (please see link at the bottom of this blog).

The media will often warn against certain products or activities as being “carcinogenic” (cancer causing). We should be aware that some of the sources behind such stories often tend to be unscientific. Undoubtedly, the strongest link between cancer and lifestyle choices is that of smokers being at significant risk of developing lung cancer. There is now a huge evidence base supporting this, and the first peer studies only emerged about 70 years ago. Aside from screening, a general guide for reducing cancer risk is to avoid tobacco, eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, avoid obesity and protect yourself from the sun. Once a person has cancer, they may be able to have a tumour removed if it is detected early enough. If the cancer is more advanced and spreads, the traditional methods are chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The former uses toxic drugs to kill cancerous cells, whereas the latter uses x-rays or similar radiation.

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