I am Dr Gregg Wilson. I’m a Consultant Medical Oncologist at the Christie Hospital in Manchester. Cancer is where normal cells in the body which would normally grow in a regulated fashion lose their ability to grow normally and start
growing abnormally. When cancer cells grow, they start to multiply and when you have enough of them in one area that becomes a tumour, which is something that a patient could see
or feel. Those tumours can then develop the ability to get into the blood, or into the lymph system and then move to other parts of the body, such as the liver or the bones
or the lungs for example. A benign tumour will only grow in the area
that it starts in, whereas a malignant tumour is a tumour that has gone a step further,
and has got the ability to move into another organ such as one close to it or into another
part of the body. The problem with most cancers is that when
they develop the ability to move, one of the first places they get into is a blood vessel
and then the bloodstream can take those cancer cells to another part of the body, and that
results in secondary cancer or metastases. When we use the term ‘primary cancer’ that
refers to where the cancer originated, so a primary cancer of the breast would be a
lump in the breast, a primary cancer of the bowel would be a tumour in the bowel. Those
cancers can then move in the bloodstream and develop into secondary cancers elsewhere.
When we use the term ‘recurrence of cancer’, we usually are talking about recurrence of
the primary cancer. Usually that cancer will have been removed by surgery and then if the
cancer comes back at a later date in that area we call that a ‘recurrence’.
The four most common cancers in the UK are breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer
and bowel or colorectal cancer (large bowel cancer). And there are many different ways
of treating each different type of cancer. For the most common cancers, the commonest
treatment is surgery. And if you can remove it when it’s small enough, often patients
are cured. After that, we have radiotherapy where we treat an area of tumour with radiation beams and that also can shrink tumours and often cure them as well. Chemotherapy refers
to treating cancer with chemicals, so essentially that just means drug treatment. And the drug
treatments for cancer have improved significantly over the last 20 years.
Approximately 40% of the population will get cancer in their lifetime. It’s much more common as patients get older but it’s still very important that no matter what your age, that
if there’s a problem and you think there might be something that may be wrong that you go
to your GP. And if we catch a tumour earlier, we’ve got
a much higher chance of curing it.