Patient receiving chemo from a nurse

What is cancer?

Cancer is when cells, which are the building blocks of the tissues and organs in the body, begin to grow uncontrollably. The body's control mechanism has stopped working and the old cells do not die but instead, grow out of control. They then form a mass of tissue that is known as a tumour. There are some cancers, such as leukaemia, which do not manifest as a tumour. Cancer can form anywhere on the body. 

What are the different groups of cancer?

Cancer can be divided into five categories:

  1. Carcinomas
  2. Lymphomas
  3. Leukaemias
  4. Brain tumours
  5. Sarcomas

What is cancer staging?

Staging is used to describe the size of cancer and how far it has grown. It is also important as it enables your specialist and cancer care team to understand what type of treatment plan you will need to follow. There are two parts to cancer stages, the TNM system and the number.

TNM stands for 'tumour, nodule, metastasis.' It recognises the size of the initial cancer, whether it has spread to the lymph nodes and if it has spread to another part of the body.

The numbers are used to divide cancer into its stage, as follows:

  • Stage 1 - the cancer is small and contained within the area that it started
  • Stage 2 - the tumour is larger but has not yet started to spread into nearby tissues. Sometimes it might have spread into the lymph nodes.
  • Stage 3 - the cancer is larger and may have spread into the surrounding tissues and into the lymph nodes.
  • Stage 4 - it has spread into another organ in the body. 

What are the most common types of cancer?

In the UK, the most common types of cancer are:

How is cancer treated?

The treatment of cancer depends on your individual case, including the stage that you have been diagnosed with.

Surgery is usually the first part of the treatment plan in order to remove solid tumours. This is usually then followed up with chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy. Chemotherapy can be given intravenously into the vein or orally with tablets.

In radiotherapy, radiation is used to kill the cancer cells and can be given in a number of ways, such as via a machine beaming radiation at the cancer site, or via radiotherapy injections into the blood.

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