There are more than 100 kinds of cancer. About two in five Canadians will develop cancer in their lifetime.
Cancer is a group of diseases that cause cells in our bodies to grow abnormally. All cells carry instructions for when they should grow, divide and die. If these instructions are not followed, cells can grow out of control, or they do not die when they’re supposed to. As these abnormal cells continue to divide, they can develop into lumps called “tumours.”
Not all tumours are cancerous (malignant). They can also be non-cancerous (benign). Non-cancerous tumours usually grow in just one place and, once removed, they are unlikely to grow back. Cancerous tumours, however, can grow into surrounding tissues and spread to other areas of the body (metastatic cancer). If the cells have spread, cancer may still grow even after the tumour has been removed.
How common is cancer?
About two in five Canadians will develop cancer in their lifetime, and about one in four Canadians will die of cancer, according to the Canadian Cancer Society’s report Canadian Cancer Statistics 2016.
Cancer can strike at any age, but it’s most common in people 50 and older. The lifetime probability of developing cancer is 42% (or a 1 in 2.4 chance) for females and 45% (or a 1 in 2.2 chance) for males. In Canada, cancer is the leading cause of death (30% of all deaths).
The most common types of cancer (not including non-melanoma skin cancer) are lung, breast, colorectal and prostate. In 2016, these were expected to make up half of new cases of cancer.
Although these figures seem bleak, the statistics yield positive news, too. Over the past three decades, the death rate for all cancers combined has decreased for both sexes. Over 60% of Canadians survive for at least five years after a cancer diagnosis (rates vary by cancer type).
We have also learned a great deal about cancer, including ways to treat it, and how to support people with cancer and their caregivers. This is increasingly important as Canada’s population ages and more people are diagnosed with cancer.
How is cancer diagnosed?
Physicians use a variety of tests and procedures to diagnose cancer. If something is detected during a physical examination or screening test, or if a patient has a symptom that warrants further investigation, physicians may order lab tests (blood, urine, other body fluids), imaging tests (X-rays, CT scans, etc.), a biopsy (removal of a small amount of tissue for examination under a microscope) or other tests.
If cancer is found, physicians determine its stage (how much it has progressed) and grade (how the cells look and behave). The criteria for staging and grading vary by cancer type. Knowing the stage and grade helps health care professionals plan treatment.
How is cancer treated?
The goal of treatment is to cure the cancer and prevent it from spreading. If it’s not possible to cure the cancer, treatment can help to reduce symptoms, slow the cancer’s growth and improve the patient’s quality of life and comfort.
Cancer treatment is provided by specialists called “oncologists.” The treatment plan depends on the cancer type, its stage, the patient’s personal situation and other factors. Most cancers are treated with surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. Some types are treated with immunotherapy, hormone therapy or targeted therapy. Physicians also help patients manage the side effects of therapy.
How can I reduce my risk?
Most cancers cannot be traced back to a single cause. Usually, many factors influence a person’s risk of developing cancer.
Some risk factors, such as genetics, age, sex and ethnicity, cannot be changed. However, there is much we can do to reduce our cancer risk. These include: eating a nutritious diet, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol intake, protecting our skin from sunlight and avoiding harmful substances at home and work.
Lifestyle changes can make a significant difference. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, “It has been estimated that smoking is responsible for 30% of all cancer deaths and that one-third of cancers can be linked to diet, obesity and lack of exercise.”
Early detection of cancer increases the chances of successful treatment, so it is important to have regular screening tests (such as Pap smears, breast exams and prostate exams). Talk to your physician about what is appropriate for you.
What resources are available for people living with cancer?
For up-to-date cancer information, visit the Canadian Cancer Society website or call 1-888-939-3333. The organization can connect patients, families and caregivers with support groups and services. Its Community Services Locator offers listings of local resources. Your physician, case manager or social worker may also suggest resources in your area.
Many people living with cancer, as well as their families and caregivers, call on additional support during treatment and recovery. Private or government-funded home health care services, such as those provided by Bayshore HealthCare, can provide peace of mind and an opportunity for caregivers to rest.
Several Canadian employers offer CAREpath, a health navigation service, as part of their employee benefits. CAREpath helps individuals and their families understand and navigate the public health care system, relative to cancer. CAREpath’s Cancer Assistance Program includes individualized case management, ongoing telephone support and access to the expertise of health professionals who specialize in cancer.
Bayshore is pleased to provide health information to our clients and their families and caregivers. This information is not medical advice and should not be treated as such. For more information on cancer, please consult your doctor.
This online community, run by the Canadian Cancer Society, provides a safe, welcoming forum for people with cancer and their family and friends.
This free resource from the Canadian Cancer Society helps people quit smoking. For support, join the Online Quit Program, call 1-877-513-5333 or download booklets about quitting.
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