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:

Risk factors

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:

  • smoking
  • drinking too much alcohol
  • obesity
  • 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.

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:

  • surgery
  • chemotherapy
  • radiotherapy

Some cancers can be cured if they are detected early enough.

Cancer screening

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:

The information on this page was provided by the Department of Health.

For further information see terms and conditions.

This page was reviewed August 2018

This page is due for review January 2020

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