Introduction

Cancer is a condition where cells in a specific part of the body grow and reproduce uncontrollably. The cancerous cells can invade and destroy surrounding healthy tissue, including organs.

Cancer sometimes begins in one part of the body before spreading to other areas. This process is known as metastasis.

1 in 2 people will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime. In the UK, the 4 most common types of cancer are:

There are more than 200 different types of cancer, and each is diagnosed and treated in a particular way. You can find links on this page to information about other types of cancer.

Spotting signs of cancer

Changes to your body's normal processes or unusual, unexplained symptoms can sometimes be an early sign of cancer.

Symptoms that need to be checked by a doctor include:

  • a lump that suddenly appears on your body
  • unexplained bleeding
  • changes to your bowel habits

But in many cases your symptoms will not be related to cancer and will be caused by other, non-cancerous health conditions.

Read more about the signs and symptoms of cancer.

Reducing your risk of cancer

Making some simple changes to your lifestyle can significantly reduce your risk of developing cancer.

For example:

The Macmillan Cancer Support website has more information about how a healthy lifestyle can help reduce your chances of developing cancer.

Cancer treatment

Surgery is the first treatment to try for most types of cancer, as solid tumours can usually be surgically removed.

2 other commonly used treatment methods are:

  • chemotherapy – powerful cancer-killing medicines
  • radiotherapy – the controlled use of high-energy X-rays

Waiting times

Accurately diagnosing cancer can take weeks or months. As cancer often develops slowly over several years, waiting for a few weeks will not usually impact on the effectiveness of treatment.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has produced referral guidelines for suspected cancer.

You should not have to wait more than 2 weeks to see a specialist if your GP suspects you have cancer and urgently refers you.

In cases where cancer has been confirmed, you should not have to wait more than 31 days from the decision to treat to the start of treatment.

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Symptoms

It's important to be aware of any unexplained changes to your body, such as the sudden appearance of a lump, blood in your urine, or a change to your usual bowel habits.

These symptoms are often caused by other, non-cancerous illnesses, but it's important to see your GP so they can investigate.

If your GP suspects cancer, they'll refer you to a specialist – usually within 2 weeks.

The specialist will carry out further tests, such as a biopsy or X-ray, and plan any necessary treatment.

Lump in your breast

See your GP if you notice a lump in your breast, or if you have a lump that is rapidly increasing in size elsewhere on your body.

Your GP will refer you to a specialist for tests if they think you may have cancer.

Coughing, chest pain and breathlessness

You should visit your GP if you have had a cough for more than three weeks.

Symptoms such as shortness of breath or chest pain may be a sign of an acute (severe) condition, such as pneumonia (a lung infection). Go to see your GP straight away if you experience these types of symptoms.

Changes in bowel habits

See your GP if you've experienced one of the changes listed below and it's lasted for more than a few weeks:

  • blood in your poo
  • diarrhoea or constipation for no obvious reason
  • a feeling of not having fully emptied your bowels after going to the toilet
  • pain in your stomach (abdomen) or back passage (anus)
  • persistent bloating

Bleeding

You should also go to see your GP if you have any unexplained bleeding, such as:

Moles

Go to see your GP if you have a mole that:

  • changes shape or looks uneven
  • changes colour, gets darker or has more than 2 colours
  • starts itching, crusting, flaking or bleeding
  • gets larger or more raised from the skin

Any of the above changes means that there is a chance you have malignant melanoma (skin cancer).

Unexplained weight loss

You should also see your GP if you've lost a lot of weight over the last couple of months that cannot be explained by changes to your diet, exercise or stress.

More information

The following links have more useful information about cancer.

Macmillan: signs and symptoms of cancer

Cancer Research UK: cancer signs and symptoms

NICE guidelines: referral for suspected cancer

For information and a step by step guide on how to self examine your breasts, watch the following video courtesy of Breakthrough Breast Cancer with BSL.

For information and a step by step guide on how to perform a testicular self examination, watch the following video courtesy of the charity Orchid.

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The information on this page has been adapted by NHS Wales from original content supplied by NHS Choices.
Last Updated: 01/10/2019 12:00:02