Cancer is a disease of cells in the body and it is caused by changes to some genes that control how cells behave.
Cancer grows when normal body cells multiply in an uncontrolled way. Cancer can affect any part of the body. Some cancers can be treated. Cancer screening tests can help detect some cancers early.
There are many different types of cancer that affect different parts of the body including lung, skin, breast, prostate, bowel and bladder.
Risk factors for cancer
The exact cause of most cancers is unknown and there is no one cause for any type of cancer. Some risk factors are likely to cause cancer, whereas others will only slightly increase the likelihood of developing cancer. A combination of genetic and environmental factors may increase the risk of cancer.
Some risk factors include:
- Age – most types of cancer become more common as we get older.
- Genetic make-up – some people are born with a genetic mutation that already puts them at more of a risk of developing a cancer.
- Family history – a changed gene is passed on from a parent to a child.
- Lifestyle choices – these include diet, smoking, high alcohol intake and lack of physical activity.
- Environmental causes – these include exposure to too much natural radiation from the sun or radon gas (a radioactive, colourless, odourless, tasteless noble gas).
- Exposure to harmful chemicals in the workplace – includes some dyes, rubber, gas and asbestos (now banned in Australia).
- Man-made radiation – this can include radiation from medical applications (for example, x-rays), televisions and burning of combustible fuels.
- Viruses – specific viruses can help to cause some cancers, although you cannot ‘catch’ a cancer like you can an infection.
- Your immune system – people who have problems with their immune system are at more risk of some forms of cancer.
Breast cancer Prostate Cancer
There are three main types of standard treatment that are used in cancer care. Each one can be used to try to cure cancer, to relieve symptoms, to help other treatments work better or to improve survival.
- Surgery – the cancer is surgically removed. This is often the first line of treatment if the cancer has not spread. It may be used to remove lymph nodes if these are also affected by the cancer. Cancers of the blood system (such as leukaemia) cannot be treated with surgery.
- Chemotherapy – the use of cancer-killing medication. There are many different types of chemotherapy medication. Some are given as tablets or capsules, but most are given by drip (infusion) into a vein. The medication goes into the bloodstream and travels through the body to destroy the cancer cells.
- Radiation therapy (or radiotherapy) – uses small, precise doses of radiation that target and destroy cancer cells. Cancers that have not spread can often be treated effectively with radiation therapy.
- Biological therapies - include Immunotherapies that trigger the immune system to fight cancer, and monoclonal antibodies that block molecules which stop the immune system working. Several types of biological therapies are now used to treat certain types of cancer. Research is continuing and many therapies are being tested in clinical trials.
Where to get help
- Your GP (doctor)
- Cancer Council, Information and Support Service Tel. 13 11 20
- WeCan website helps people affected by cancer find the information, resources and support services they may need following a diagnosis of cancer.
Other support services:
Source: Better Health Channel, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/conditionsandtreatments/cancer