The most commonly asked questions, answered
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, which is a process is known as metastasis. 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.
Reducing the risk
Some simple changes to your lifestyle can help lower the risk of developing cancer:
- Eating healthily
- Keeping active
- Stopping smoking
- Protecting your skin from the sun
- Drinking less alcohol
- Making sure you’re a healthy weight
- One in three of us will develop some form of cancer in our lifetime.
- The risk of getting skin cancer, liver cancer or kidney cancer is rising.
- 330,000 people are diagnosed with cancer in the UK every year.
- You are more likely to get cancer if you have a family history of cancer.
Ten most common cancers in men and women
Source: 10 most common cancers among males and females, Cancer Registration Statistics, England, 2012,
Released: 19 June 2014
Deaths from cancer
Cancer death rates have fallen by 10% in the last decade. In 2013, cancer was the most common cause of death in England and Wales (accounting for 29%) and was the most common cause of death for men. More than half of these cancer deaths are people over 75.
(Source: Office of National Statistics June 2014)
There are four cancers that account for half of all cancer deaths in the UK – breast, bowel, lung and prostate cancer. Death rates for these four cancers have fallen by almost a third since the early 1990s. For breast cancer the death rate fell by 38% while bowel cancer, lung cancer and prostate cancer death rates fell by 34%, 27% and 21% respectively.
Between 1991 and 1993, 146 people out of every 100,000 could have expected to die from one of these four cancers but by 2010 to 2012, these figures had dipped to 102 out of every 100,000. (Source: Cancer Research UK)
There have been many improvements in the detection of breast cancer due to routine screening by the NHS for women over the age of 50. There have also been advances in the development of treatments for patients with bowel cancer and the introduction of bowel cancer screening is likely to further reduce death rates.
The number of patients being diagnosed with cancer has increased by 50% since 2009-10, with over 1.4 million patients referred by their GP with suspected cancer. The increase is due to a mixture of better earlier detection and an ageing population.
The good news is that many more people are surviving cancer and either recovering completely or living longer lives than even a few years ago. One in two diagnosed with cancer now survives for at least ten years. Survival rates in the UK have doubled in the last 40 years because research is delivering better diagnosis and treatment.
Four children every day are diagnosed with cancer; 1 in every 500 will develop some form of cancer by the age of 14. Cancer is the most common cause of death in children aged 1 to 14 years, accounting for around one in five deaths in this age group. The good news is that three out of four children diagnosed with cancer are cured.
Treatment of cancer
The treatment you receive depends on the type of cancer you have and if it has spread. Many people have treatment to cure the cancer, shrink or slow down the cancer growth to prolong life, or to reduce the symptoms caused by the cancer. Surgery to remove the tumour is a common treatment for cancer, while many sufferers also have chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs that are toxic to cells to destroy cancer cells. Newer drugs (called targeted treatments or biological therapies) are directed at certain parts of the cancer cells and work differently to chemotherapy.
Other treatments include hormone therapy (which may help to stop the tumour growing), biological therapies (which target cancer cells), and bone marrow (stem cell) transplants.
Radiotherapy is the use of high-energy X-rays to treat cancer. It works by destroying the cancer cells in the area being treated.
Can cancer be cured?
Many people can be cured of cancer, but it depends on the type of cancer, the stage it is diagnosed at and how well people respond to treatment. For most people, the earlier the cancer is diagnosed, the better.
The NHS can only use drugs authorised by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which takes into account price and efficiency when deciding which ones hospitals and doctors can or cannot use. NICE reviews expensive new drugs to see if they are effective enough to be worth the cost. Nice then provides national guidance as to whether they NHS should, or should not use the drug.
Cancer insurance guide
- Health insurance and cancer
- Cancer cash insurance
- Travel insurance for cancer patients
- Critical illness insurance
- Income protection insurance