Cancer can affect your body in different ways. Tumours can press on or block organs, or affect how they function. Cancer cells can also spread (metastasise) to another part of your body. But tumours aren’t always cancerous – benign tumours don’t metastasise, and they grow more slowly than cancerous (malignant) tumours.
What are the types of cancer?
Cancers are named after the types of cells they develop from. Below are the five main cancer types.
- Carcinomas. These are cancers that starts in epithelial tissues, which include the skin and the tissues that cover internal organs. The most common type of cancer in the UK is carcinoma: 85 out of every 100 cancers are carcinomas.
- Sarcomas. These are cancers of connective tissues, like bone and cartilage. They are relatively rare, with fewer than 1 in every 100 cancers being sarcomas.
- Leukaemia. This cancer affects the blood cells in the bone marrow, usually white blood cells. Leukaemias are the most common cancers in children.
- Lymphoma and myeloma. These cancers affect the lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system and helps to fight infection.
- Central nervous system cancers. These include cancers of the brain and spinal cord.
Common carcinomas include cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and bowel. Together, these four cancers alone make up over half of all new cancers diagnosed in the UK.
What are the symptoms of cancer?
Cancer symptoms vary depending on the type of cancer, but there are certain symptoms to look out for such as:
- a new lump in any area of your body, for example a breast lump or testicular lump
- unusual bleeding, such as in pee, vomit, or poo (stool), and vaginal bleeding between periods or after sex
- unexplained weight loss
- very heavy night sweats or fevers
- a change in bowel habits
Symptoms can differ between people, and symptoms like these can also be caused by other medical conditions. But diagnosing cancer early can make a big difference to how well it can be treated. So if you ever notice any symptoms like these, or an unusual change that doesn’t go away, speak to your GP.
How is cancer diagnosed?
Cancer can be diagnosed based on your symptoms, from a biopsy, or from cancer screening.
If you have symptoms that could be caused by cancer, speak to your GP about them. Your GP may ask about your family history of cancer, as this can affect your risk of some cancers. You might also need tests, such as blood tests or an ultrasound scan, to figure out what’s causing your symptoms.
Your GP can refer you to a specialist if they think your symptoms may be caused by cancer. They may do a biopsy (a procedure that removes a small sample of tissue) to check if an unusual lump is cancerous (malignant) or not.
Cancer screening is normally offered to adults once they reach a certain age, depending on which part of the country they live in. It aims to identify cancer earlier, when treatment is often most effective.
In the UK, the three cancer screening programmes are: