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What is Cancer? How to Know If I am Having Cancer? What are the Treatments?

Cancer is a health issue that we should pay attention to. It is the second leading cause of death after heart disease in the United States. There are more than 100 types of cancer, affecting different parts of your body.


Prevalence of Cancer


What Happens When Someone is Having Cancer?

Cancer begins as a change in the gene of a single normal cell in any part of the body, the affects the set of instructions in the gene and the cell no longer acts normally. The cell multiplies uncontrollably and it does not function normally. Instead, they form a growth or tumour. A tumour is a swelling that is described to be either benign or malignant.

Benign: A growth that does not spread to other parts of the body

Malignant: A cancer that spreads from its original site into surrounding tissue and other parts of the body

The figure below shows the development of tumour.

These cancerous tumours can spread to nearby tissues, organs, as well as to other parts of the body. Cancer kills by:

  • Destroying important organs
  • Disturbing normal bodily functions
  • Blocking important blood vessels or air passages


How Many Stages does Cancer Have?

Cancer can be classified into 4 stages to determine the best treatment to treat the patient.

Stage 1: The cancer is relatively small and contained within the organ it started in.

Stage 2: It usually indicates that the tumour is larger than in stage 1, but the cancer has not started to spread into the surrounding tissues. Sometimes, stage 2 means that cancer cells have spread into lymph nodes close to the tumour. This depends on the particular type of cancer.

Stage 3: The cancer is usually larger. It may have started to spread into surrounding tissues and there are cancer cells in the lymph nodes area.

Stage 4: The cancer has spread from where it started to another body organ. This also called secondary or metastatic cancer.


How to Know If I Am Having Cancer?

You can attend to the healthcare services that are accessible to you in order to undergo screening test. There are different screening tests to detect different types of cancer.

Types of cancer

Screening tests

Breast cancer

  • Mammogram
  • Ultrasound

Cervical cancer

  • Pap smear/ test
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) screening

Colorectal cancer

  • Fecal occult blood test (FOBT)
  • Colonoscopy

Lung cancer

Low dose computed tomography (CT) scan

Prostate cancer

  • Digital rectal examination (DRE)
  • Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test


If you are found to be positive during screening test, you will need to undergo a diagnostic test (medical procedures) to confirm the presence or absence of cancer.

Diagnostic test



  • A medical procedure which doctor removes a sample of tissue, of which inspected under a microscope
  • It can be done with a needle, an endoscope or surgery

Laboratory test

  • Conducted on blood, urine or other body fluids, in measuring substances
  • It is usually used in combination with other diagnosis procedures

Imaging procedures

  • A medical procedure used to produce images of areas inside your body to indicate the presence of tumour
  • Examples of imaging procedure are: CT scan, Nuclear scan, ultrasound, MRI, PET scan, X-rays

Treatments of Cancer

Chemotherapy is one of the most wide known treatment of cancer. It is using medications that are injected into a vein or a muscle to kill the cancer cells. Chemotherapy may cause side effects on cancer patients because anti-cancer medication affects all the cells that grow rapidly. Apart from cancer cells, it will also affect normal cells such as white and red blood cells, hair and cells which line the digestive tract such as mouth and intestines. Therefore, patients undergo chemotherapy may experience side effects, such as nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, mouth sores or tiredness.

There are also other cancer treatments aside from chemotherapy. The types of treatment vary based on the type of cancer and its staging. Every cancer treatment plan is unique as it is according to individualized condition. Your treating oncologist might be prescribed a combination of treatments.

The types of cancer treatment available are:

  • Surgery - A medical procedure or operation to remove the cancer cells.
  • Radiation therapy - It uses high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.
  • Chemotherapy - It uses drugs to kill cancer cells.
  • Immunotherapy - It uses oneself immune system to fight cancer cell.
  • Targeted therapy - It uses drug that targeting the specific proteins which help tumors grow and spread throughout the body.
  • Hormone therapy - It uses medicine that regulates the hormones in your body to stop or slow down the growth of cancer cells.
  • Stem cell transplant - A procedure that restore blood-forming stem cells who have undergone high doses of chemo- and radiotherapy.



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SingHealth Group (2019). Cancer - What it is. Retrieved August 25, 2020 from