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.
More than one in three 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 won't 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 medication
- radiotherapy - the controlled use of high-energy X-rays
Accurately diagnosing cancer can take weeks or months. As cancer often develops slowly over several years, waiting for a few weeks won't usually impact on the effectiveness of treatment.
You shouldn't have to wait more than two weeks to see a specialist if your GP suspects you have cancer and urgently refers you.
In cases where cancer has been confirmed, you shouldn't have to wait more than 31 days from the decision to treat to the start of treatment.
Signs and symptoms
It's important to be aware of any unexplained changes to your body, such as the sudden appearance of a lump, blood in your urine, or a change to your usual bowel habits.
These symptoms are often caused by other, non-cancerous illnesses, but it's important to see your GP so they can investigate.
If your GP suspects cancer, they'll refer you to a specialist - usually within two weeks.
Read more about waiting times for cancer referrals and treatment.
Other potential signs and symptoms of cancer are outlined below.
Lump in your breast
See your GP if you notice a lump in your breast or if you have a lump that's rapidly increasing in size elsewhere on your body.
Your GP will refer you to a specialist for tests if they think you may have cancer.
Coughing, chest pain and breathlessness
Visit your GP if you've had a cough for more than three weeks.
Changes in bowel habits
See your GP if you've experienced one of the changes listed below and it's lasted for more than a few weeks:
- blood in your stools
- 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 (abdomen) or back passage (anus)
- persistent bloating
You should also see your GP if you have any unexplained bleeding, such as:
- blood in your urine
- bleeding between periods
- bleeding from your bottom
- blood when you cough
- blood in your vomit
See your GP if you have a mole that:
- has an irregular or asymmetrical shape
- has an irregular border with jagged edges
- has more than one colour - it may be flecked with brown, black, red, pink or white
- is bigger than 7mm in diameter
- is itchy, crusting or bleeding
Any of the above changes means there's a chance you have malignant melanoma, a form of skin cancer.
Unexplained weight loss
You should also see your GP if you've lost a lot of weight over the last couple of months that can't be explained by changes to your diet, exercise or stress.
Read about unintentional weight loss.
The following links have more useful information about cancer.
The list below is a combination of the and brand names of medicines available in the UK. Each name provides a link to a separate website (Medicine Guides) where you can find detailed information about the medicine. The information is provided as part of an on-going medicine information project between NHS Direct, Datapharm Communications Ltd and other organisations.
The medicines listed below hold a UK licence to allow their use in the treatment of this condition. medicines are not included.
The list is continually reviewed and updated but it may not be complete as the project is still in progress and guides for new medicines may still be in development.
If you are taking one of these medicines for a different condition, or your medicine for this condition is not mentioned here at all, speak to your prescriber, GP or pharmacist, or contact NHS Direct on 0845 46 47.47.