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.

More than one in three people will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime. In the UK, the four most common types of cancer are:

There are over 200 different types of cancer, and each is diagnosed and treated in a particular way. You can find out more about specific types of cancer by using the links on this page.

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

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:

Cancer treatment

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

Two other commonly used treatment methods are:

  • chemotherapy (powerful cancer-killing medication)
  • radiotherapy (the controlled use of high-energy X-rays).

Waiting times

The Welsh Government aim is to ensure that all those patients with suspected cancer undertake diagnostic tests as quickly as possible to minimise any anxiety that they may be feeling.

There are two pathways that a patient may follow:

Patients suspected of having cancer and urgently referred by their GP, should wait no more than 62 days for their treatment to commence
Patients who have been newly diagnosed as having cancer, not through a GP referral should start their treatment within 31 days of a decision to treat.

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It is 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 in your usual bowel habits.

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

If your GP suspects cancer, they'll refer you to a specialist. The specialist will carry out further tests, such as a biopsy or X-ray, and plan any necessary treatment.

Other potential signs and symptoms of cancer are outlined below.

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

Go to see your GP if you have experienced one of the changes listed below and it has lasted for more than a few weeks:

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


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


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

  • has an irregular or asymmetrical shape
  • has an irregular border with jagged edges
  • has more than one colour (it may be flecked with brown, black, red, pink or white)
  • is bigger then 7mm in diameter
  • is itchy, crusting or bleeding

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

Unexplained weight loss

You should also go to see your GP if you have 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: 27/02/2017 08:57:02