Cancer is a general term used to refer to a condition where the body’s cells begin to grow and reproduce in an uncontrollable way. These cells can then invade and destroy healthy tissue, including organs. Cancer sometimes begins in one part of the body before spreading to other parts.
How common is cancer
Cancer is a common condition and a serious health problem. Excluding non-melanoma skin cancer, there are around 9,000 new cases diagnosed each year in Northern Ireland.
It is estimated that one in two people will develop cancer at some point in their lives. Being aware of the signs and symptoms linked to the condition can help with early detection. This is important because the earlier cancer is detected, the better the chances of successful treatment.
Types of cancer
There are hundreds of different types of cancer. The most common cancers in Northern Ireland (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer) are:
- breast cancer
- prostate cancer
- lung cancer
- bowel / colorectal cancer
- Cancer types (Northern Ireland Cancer Network website)
The biggest risk factor for developing cancer is age, with the majority of cancers more common in older people in Northern Ireland. There are many other risk factors for developing cancer, including:
- drinking too much alcohol
- poor diet
- lack of exercise
- prolonged exposure to sunlight
Making some simple changes to your lifestyle can significantly reduce your risk of developing cancer. Eating a healthy diet, taking regular exercise and avoiding smoking will all help to lower your risk of cancer and other serious health conditions.
- Food and nutrition
- Healthy weight
- Protection from the sun
- How is cancer treated? (Northern Ireland Cancer Network website)
- Can cancer be prevented? (Northern Ireland Cancer Network website)
- Reducing your risk of cancer (Be Cancer Aware website)
General signs and symptoms of cancer
Being aware of the general signs and symptoms of cancer is important. It can help in earlier detection and treatment of the illness. Here are some of the common signs and symptoms you should ask your doctor to check out:
- coughing up blood
- blood in your urine
- blood mixed through your bowel motion (stools)
- a change in bowel habit that lasts for more than six weeks
- unexplained, significant weight loss (5kg/10lbs over a couple of months)
- a lump anywhere on your body
- changes to your skin or to an existing mole (such as itching, bleeding or a change in shape or colour)
- a sore that doesn’t heal
- symptoms that refuse to clear up, such as a cough or hoarseness that lasts for more than three weeks
If you experience any of the symptoms above, it is important that you see your doctor and have your symptoms checked out.
Talk to your doctor
If you have any of the signs and symptoms above, talk to your doctor. You are not wasting anyone’s time, and if it isn’t serious, your mind will be put at ease. If it is cancer, however, early diagnosis can make all the difference. The sooner cancer is detected, the better the chances of successful treatment.
If you experience any symptoms which worry you, speak to your doctor. Online information is not a substitute for taking to a qualified medical professional.
Treatments for cancer
Treatment for cancer will depend on many factors, such as the stage and location of your cancer. Treatments for cancer usually include one or a combination of the following:
Some cancers can be cured if they are detected early enough.
Regular cancer screening is important. Screening can detect certain cancers before you have any symptoms. Finding cancers early means that treatment has a better chance of success.
In Northern Ireland, the Public Health Agency runs screening programmes for breast, cervical and bowel cancers. The aim of screening is to detect cancer at an early stage when treatment is more likely to be effective.
Other cancer conditions
There are many other different types of cancer, including:
- anal cancer
- benign brain tumour
- bile duct cancer
- bladder cancer
- bone cancer
- brain tumours
- breast cancer in men
- cervical cancer
- eye cancer
- gallbladder cancer
- head and neck cancer
- kidney cancer
- laryngeal (larynx) cancer
- liver cancer
- malignant brain tumour
- mouth cancer
- nasal and sinus cancer
- nasopharyngeal cancer
- oesophageal cancer
- ovarian cancer
- pancreatic cancer
- penile cancer
- skin cancer (melanoma)
- soft tissue sarcomas
- stomach cancer
- testicular cancer
- thyroid cancer
- vulval cancer
- womb (uterus) cancer
More useful links
- Northern Ireland Cancer Network website
- Be Cancer Aware
- Cancer Research UK website
- Cancer - help and support
The information on this page was provided by the Department of Health.
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