Cancer is an unfortunately common health condition and it’s estimated that one in three of us will develop the condition at some point in our lives. In the UK, over 300,000 people are diagnosed with cancer every year.
The term ‘cancer’ doesn’t actually refer to a single condition; it’s a collective term for over 200 different diseases that are all characterised by uncontrollable cell growth and division (tumours) which may spread to other parts of the body and impair the way the body works. The five most common cancers in UK men are prostate, lung, bowel , bladder and Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and the five most common in women are breast, lung, bowel, uterus and ovarian.
Whilst being diagnosed with cancer can often be a frightening and upsetting experience, survival rates for most of the major types of cancer are increasing – cancer deaths have fallen by more than 20% in the past 20 years, despite the fact that more people are being diagnosed with cancer. As with heart disease, we now know that there are many things a person can do themselves to improve quality of life, reduce side-effects of medical treatments and increase their chances of survival.
Potential Signs and Symptoms
Spotting the potential signs of cancer early is believed to be one of the most important factors in survival rates. Whilst the presence of a particular sign or symptom may not necessarily mean that a person has cancer, there are a number of generally-agreed signs and symptoms to be on the look out for and to discuss with a GP if you spot them. These include:
- Lumps appearing in your body
- A cough or hoarse throat that doesn’t go away after two weeks
- Changes in your skin, including moles that change shape or colour, crust or bleed
- Bowel habit changes, including diarrhoea or constipation and blood in your stools
- Coughing up blood
- Unexplained loss of appetite and abnormal feelings of fullness or difficulty swallowing
- Blood in your urine or when you are sick
- Abnormal bleeding from the vagina
If you have any concerns related to your health, please contact your GP.
There’s a lot you can do to reduce your chances of developing cancer; research suggests that a third of cancer cases are linked to avoidable lifestyle habits such as smoking, being overweight, poor diet and drinking too much alcohol.
Tobacco accounts for nearly one in five cancer deaths in the UK. Most people know that it can cause lung cancer but many are unaware that it raises the risk of developing many other cancers too, so stopping smoking is the most obvious lifestyle change you can make to reduce your risk of cancer.
Taking care of your diet and avoiding becoming overweight are others; being overweight increases your chances of developing cancer by 5.5% and poor diet accounts for 9% of all cancers. Aim to eat at least five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables every day and aim to eat no more than 70g of processed meat, such as bacon and ham, each day.
Another sensible step you can take is to cut down on alcohol if you drink above 3 to 4 units a day for men and 2 to 3 units a day for women which are the recommendations by the Department of Health (a pint of 4% beer or a 175ml glass of 13% wine are both 2.3 units).
Doing more exercise can also greatly help – Its been shown that regular exercise can cut the risk of some cancers by up to 50%.
Protect yourself against the sun by wearing a hat and sun cream and staying out of the sun at the sunniest times of day are other steps you can take to lower your risk of developing some forms of cancer.
Finally, around 5,000 people die each year of occupational (work-related) cancers caused by repeated exposure to dangerous substances or fumes at work, such as asbestos. Make sure you follow health and safety rules at work to avoid exposure to potentially dangerous carcinogens.
Finally make sure you attend any screening programmes you are invited to, also get to know your own body and undertake regular self-checks.