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.
There are over 200 different types of cancer, each with its own methods of diagnosis and treatment. 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 symptoms that are out of the ordinary can sometimes be an early sign of cancer.
For example, a lump that suddenly appears on your body, unexplained bleeding or changes to your bowel habits are all symptoms that need to be checked by a doctor.
In many cases, your symptoms will not be related to cancer and will be caused by other, non-cancerous health conditions. However, it is still important that you see your GP so your symptoms can be investigated.
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, healthy eating, taking regular exercise and not smoking will all help lower your risk.
Read more about how a healthy lifestyle can help reduce your chances of developing cancer.
How common is cancer?
Cancer is a common condition. In 2009, 320,467 new cases of cancer were diagnosed in the UK. More than one in three people will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime.
In the UK, the most common types of cancer are:
Each specific type of cancer has its own set of treatment methods.
However, many cases of cancer are treated using chemotherapy (powerful cancer-killing medication) and radiotherapy (the controlled use of high energy X-rays). Surgery is also sometimes carried out to remove cancerous tissue.
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.
Patients suspected of having cancer and urgently referred by their GP, should have no more than a two week wait to see a specialist.
In cases where cancer has been confirmed, patients should wait no more than 31 days from the decision to treat to the start of their treatment.
In 2010-11, 95.5% of patients who were urgently referred for suspected cancer were seen by a specialist within 14 days of referral.
In the same period, 98.4% of patients receiving their first treatment for cancer began their treatment within 31 days. For breast cancer, 99.1% of people began their treatment within 31 days of diagnosis.
You can read more about cancer waiting times during 2010-11 on the Department of Health's website.
Find local cancer support services
Find specialist cancer hospitals