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Cancer health centre

Cancer basics & prevention

What is cancer?

Cancer begins when cells in parts of the body grow in an abnormal and uncontrolled way forming a tumour.

Malignant, or cancerous, tumours crowd out healthy cells, interfere with body functions, and draw nutrients from body tissues. Cancers continue to grow and spread by direct extension and invasion of neighbouring tissues, or through a process called metastasis, whereby the malignant cells travel through the lymphatic or blood vessels - eventually forming new tumours in other parts of the body.

The four major types of cancer are carcinoma, sarcoma, lymphoma, and leukaemia. Carcinomas - the most commonly diagnosed cancers - originate in the skin, lungs, breasts, pancreas, and other organs and glands. Lymphomas are cancers of lymphocytes. Leukaemias are cancers of the blood and do not usually form solid tumours. Sarcomas arise in bone, muscle, fat, or cartilage and are relatively rare.

Generally, the sooner a cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better the chances of a person's survival.

How can I help prevent cancer?

The earlier that cancer is diagnosed the more likely it is to be treated successfully. This is especially true for breast cancer, cervical cancer, lung cancer, melanoma, colorectal cancer, and prostate cancer. Tips for cancer prevention include:

  • Avoid smoking. If you do smoke, stop.
  • Avoid too much sun exposure and wear sunscreen when you are in the sun.
  • Eat a nutritious diet and exercise regularly.
  • Get appropriate cancer screening for your age, gender, and risk factors.
  • Take appropriate precautions around carcinogens and industrial chemicals, such as wearing gloves and making sure there is enough ventilation.

WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on July 28, 2016

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