What is cancer?

Cancer starts in our cells. Cells are tiny building blocks that make up the organs and tissues of our body.

Usually, these cells divide to make new cells in a controlled way. This is how our bodies grow, heal and repair.


Sometimes, this goes wrong and the cell becomes abnormal. The abnormal cell keeps dividing and making more and more abnormal cells. These cells form a lump, which is called a tumour.


Not all lumps are cancerous.

  • A lump that is not cancerous (benign) cannot spread to anywhere else in the body.

  • A lump that is cancer (malignant) can grow into surrounding tissue.

Cancer cells sometimes break away from the primary cancer and travel through the blood or lymphatic system to other parts of the body. Cancer cells that spread and develop into a tumour somewhere else in the body are called a secondary cancer.



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 won't be related to cancer and will be caused by other, non-cancerous health conditions. However, it's still important for you to see your GP so that they can investigate your symptoms.


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 help lower your risk.


Read more about how a healthy lifestyle can help reduce your chances of developing cancer.


Taken from Macmillan Cancer Support and the NHS Choices website