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What is Cancer ?

In this section of the “Cancer Journey” we provide a brief overview of what cancer is before we describe Cancer Services in North Wales and how cancer care is managed. This is not intended to be a detailed overview as the healthcare professional team will be there to provide written and verbal information and support at key points along the care pathway.

It is however important to know that cancer is not a single disease with a single type of treatment. There are more than 200 different kinds of cancer, each with its own name and treatment. Achieving an accurate diagnosis of cancer is important as this will decide what treatment and care is best.

Essentially, the body is made up of many different types of cells. These cells repair and reproduce themselves in a controlled way to keep the body healthy. Sometimes, however this orderly process goes wrong and normal cells change into cancerous cells growing in an uncontrolled way.

A healthy cell does not turn into a cancer cell overnight. If a cell becomes faulty its behaviour can change causing it to grow and multiply too much. Cancer is abnormal cell growth, which escapes destruction by the body’s defences.

When this happens, the cells develop into a lump called a tumour, which may be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). A pathologist can tell if a tumour is benign or malignant by removing a piece of tissue/bone marrow (a procedure called a biopsy) and examining a small sample of cells under a microscope. Benign tumours are not cancer and can be removed if they cause discomfort.

Knowing how your body normally looks and feels can help you spot changes that could be caused by a cancer. This is not to suggest that any change means you have cancer but it always worthwhile seeing your GP if you have concerns about your health. Spotting cancer early can make treatment much easier and improve outcomes.

There is also good evidence to suggest that at least one third of all cancers can be prevented by changes to our lifestyle and environment so if you want to know more about how to reduce your risk of developing cancer please visit our Prevention Section.

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