Did you know that there are at least 1000 new cases of cancer every day in the UK? With more than half of these cancer cases are either breast, lung, bowel, or prostate cancers.
Your body is made up of trillions of cells. Cells that are too old or damaged normally die and new cells grow to replace them. However, when you have cancer, this natural cycle breaks down. Cells that are supposed to die live on and new cells grow when they shouldn’t. Most of these abnormal cells don’t stop dividing until they form large growths called tumours.
What are Tumours?
Many types of cancer form large masses of tissue called tumours. These tumours can be further classified into two:
Benign tumours - tumours that don’t spread or invade nearby tissues. Benign tumours can be very large. They don’t usually grow back when removed. Benign tumours are not dangerous unless they grow in critical parts of the body. For example, in the brain, even a tiny benign tumour can have fatal consequences.
Malignant tumours - these types of tumours spread or invade nearby organs. As they grow, parts of the tumour break off and travel to other parts of your body through your blood or lymphatic system --- forming new tumours wherever they settle. Malignant tumours also tend to grow back when removed.
Cancers related to the blood (i.e. leukaemia) often don’t form solid tumours.
How to Treat Cancer
There are several ways to treat cancer. Some of the common procedures include:
- Surgery - removing as much of the cancer cells as possible.
- Chemotherapy - using drugs to kill cancer cells.
- Radiation therapy - using high-powered beams like x-rays to kill cancer cells.
- Immunotherapy - a procedure which uses your own immune system to kill cancer cells. Your immune system usually gets rid of dead and abnormal cells but cancer cells know how to “hide” from your immune system. Immunotherapy helps your immune system recognise cancer cells.
These cancer treatments are more effective when the cancer is still at its early stages. This means that early detection is key.
Early Warning Signs of Cancer
Your body usually gives off signals when something is not right. Below are 7 warning signs of cancer that you should know about.
Lack of Appetite and Unexplained Weight Loss
Common illnesses like flu can affect your appetite. Cancer can, too. Cancer makes you feel less hungry by changing your body’s metabolism --- the way your body converts food into energy. Cancers in the stomach, colon, ovaries, and pancreas can press into your stomach making you feel full all the time.
Because of the lack of appetite, most cancer patients also experience weight loss for unknown reasons. If you have lost more than 5 kilograms without knowing why then it’s worth heading to your GP.
Presence of Blood in the Stool or Urine
Cancers, ulcers, haemorrhoids, sores, and other infections in the gut can produce bloody stool. You can usually tell the source by looking at the colour of the blood. If it’s bright red, then you may have some bleeding in your anus or rectum. If the colour is dark, then the source is probably higher up in your digestive system.
Blood in the urine is usually a sign that something is wrong in your urinary tract. Cancer in the bladder and kidneys can produce blood in your pee. But so can common illnesses like kidney stones and bladder infections.
Whatever the cause is, if you see blood in your stool or urine, consult your doctor as soon as possible. They may perform tests like colonoscopy to rule out the possibility of cancer.
Coughing that doesn’t go away can be a sign of lung cancer. See your GP if the cough is accompanied by weight loss, extreme tiredness, shortness of breath, chest pain, and hoarseness. If you are a smoker, the more important it is to consult with your doctor.
Fever that Doesn’t Break
Fever is a natural immune response especially if you’ve caught an infection. But some types of cancers like leukaemia, liver cancer, kidney cancer, and lymphoma can also cause your temperature to flare up. Most fevers related to cancer rise and fall during the day. If you’ve been suffering from a fever that’s over 37.7 degrees Celsius for days, consult your doctor.
Changes in Your Skin
Skin changes can be a precursor to skin cancer. If you notice a freckle, mole, or wart change in colour, shape, and size, contact your doctor right away as this may be an early sign of melanoma.
Lumps or Changes in the Breast
An early sign of breast cancer in women include breast pain, changes in the nipples, lump under your arm, scaling and redness over the breast, and discharge from the nipple that is not milk. If you notice any of these changes, see your doctor right away.
Pain During Urination or Ejaculation
An early sign of prostate cancer is painful urination and painful ejaculation. If the pain doesn’t go away after a couple of days, get it checked by your doctor to make sure.
Remember that to fully heal from cancer, early detection is vital. We hope these early warning signs of cancer can give you a heads up on whatever is wrong with your body. If you feel something is amiss, don’t be afraid to consult with your doctor.