Cancers are non-communicable diseases. This means they cannot be caught. Instead they develop. Cancers occur when cell division goes wrong. This causes cells to grow out of control, which form a tumour. There are two types of tumour:

  • malignant - these tumours are cancerous and can break apart, move around the body and start new cancers in a process called metastasis
  • benign - these tumours are less serious because they are not cancerous, and do not spread

Cancers are looked for by doctors in a process called screening. This can be in an x-ray, in blood or urine tests or by using monoclonal antibodies.

Many cancers are caused by smoking or drinking too much. Others are caused by infections such as the HPV virus. Other causes include the Sun's UV rays and some environmental pollutants. The risk of cancer also increases as we get older.

The most frequent cancers in the UK are breast, lung and bowel cancers, and prostate cancer in men. A quick diagnosis is essential for treating all cancers. Treatment can be:

  • by chemotherapy - using chemicals to kill cancerous cells
  • by radiotherapy - using x-rays to kill cancerous cells
  • palliative - this helps a person who has fatal cancer to die as comfortably as possible

Many cancers are less likely to develop if people lead healthy lifestyles. This means not smoking, exercising regularly and eating healthy foods.