>>Back arrow....Group


It is estimated that one in two people in the UK will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime. Use this guide to learn more about cancer, some of its causes, and next steps for getting help and support.

Call us 0800 0234 834

Learn more about cancer

This guide explores cancer, some of the treatments available, and things you can do to reduce your risk of developing the condition.

  • What is cancer?

    To put it simply, our bodies are made of millions of cells and cancer is a disease of these cells.
  • Types of cancer

    There are more than 200 different types of cancer. Most are described by the area of the body they originate in; for instance, breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, and pancreatic cancer.

    Cancers can also be divided into groups (carcinoma, sarcoma, melanoma, lymphoma, and leukemia) according to the type of cell the cancer originates from.

  • What causes cancer?

    The causes of cancer generally fall into two categories – things we can control and others we can’t.

    Common causes of cancer include:

    Smoking. Smoking is the biggest preventable cause of cancer, contributing to 54,300 cases of cancer every year in the UK. It causes around seven in 10 lung cancer cases and is the most common cause of cancer-related deaths.

    The number of years spent smoking affects cancer risk most strongly, and the more cigarettes smoked each day, the higher the risk of developing cancer.

    Obesity. Obesity is the second biggest cause of cancer in the UK, resulting in around 22,800 cases a year. Obesity occurs when a person’s calorie intake is higher than the amount burned through physical activity.

    It can be tempting to indulge in unhealthy behaviours – busy lifestyles, confusing food labels, and fast-food options can make it difficult to maintain healthy eating habits. However, making the right food choices and engaging in regular physical activity is important for reducing cancer risk, as well as maintaining your health and wellbeing.

    Sun exposure. Most skin cancers are caused by exposure to the sun and can result from short-term or long-term exposure. The ultraviolet light (UV) in sunlight damages DNA in skin cells and can occur years before skin cancer develops.

    It’s advisable that you apply sunscreen to your face, ears, feet and hands when exposed to the sun, and avoid being in the sunshine for long periods.

    Alcohol. Alcohol causes 11,900 cases of cancer a year in the UK, and small amounts of alcohol intake can increase cancer risk.

    Cutting down on alcohol can help to reduce cancer risk and staying within the government guidelines of 14 units per week is a good place to start.

    Some cancers are not linked to lifestyle choices and can’t be prevented, such as breast cancer. 

  • Stages of cancer

    When someone receives a cancer diagnosis, it is classified as to what stage the disease is at. Usually, the earlier cancer is diagnosed, the lower the stage it will be and the better the outcome is for the person.

    The stage of a cancer describes the size of a tumour and how far it has spread from where it started.

    When doctors first diagnose cancer, they carry out tests to check how big the cancer is and whether it has spread to surrounding tissues. Staging and grading the cancer helps the doctor to determine its size, whether it has spread, and the best treatment options.

  • How is cancer treated?

    Surgery. This involves removing all or part of the cancer during a surgical operation and is one of the main treatment options for different types of cancer.

    Chemotherapy. This is where anti-cancer drugs are used to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs help to prevent the reproduction of cancer cells.

    Targeted therapies and immunotherapy. Targeted therapies involve the use of cancer drugs, which work by ‘targeting’ the differences that enable a cancer cell to survive and grow.

    Immunotherapy drugs help the immune system to find and get rid of cancer cells.

    Radiation treatment. Radiotherapy is a treatment for cancer that uses carefully measured and controlled high energy x-rays.

    Radiotherapy can be used to help cure cancer, reduce the chance of cancer coming back, or relieve symptoms.

    Palliative treatment. Palliative treatment is designed to ease symptoms and improve quality of life. It can be used at any stage of the condition if there are troubling symptoms, such as pain or sickness. It can also be used to minimise or control the side effects of cancer treatment.

    In cases of advanced cancer, palliative treatment can help someone to live longer and comfortably, even if they cannot be cured. Your healthcare team will determine the most appropriate and effective cancer treatment for you.

  • Can cancer be prevented?

    There are lifestyle changes you can make to help lower your cancer risk.

    These include:

    • Eating a healthy diet
    • Moderating alcohol consumption
    • Abstaining from or quitting smoking
    • Maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active
    • Attending screening appointments when they arrive in the post
    • Speaking to your GP as soon as you notice any physical changes

    Adopting lifestyle choices like those mentioned above are equally important if you have been diagnosed with cancer. The fitter and healthier you are, the more likely you’ll respond to treatment and reduce the risk of cancer returning.

Next steps

See our action plan for changes you can start making today, and actions you can take to get help and support.

More help

  • Law Express App

    Register for the free and easy-to-use app for legal guidance on a variety of issues.
  • How to check your benefits

    This simple benefits calculator helps you find out if you’re entitled to means-tested benefits. And it’ll indicate if you’re entitled to non-means tested benefits too.
  • Anxiety

    Anxiety is a normal reaction to fear or danger but in some cases it can be debilitating. Use this guide to learn about anxiety so you can begin to manage it.

Improve your wellbeing by subscribing to our monthly emails