Cancer occurs when a group of cells in the body grow uncontrollably. The other characteristic of cancer cells is their immortality. They can recruit new blood vessels to feed them as they grow in size and spread.
There are many types of cancers, depending on the cell of origin. Cancer varies widely in its behavior. Some are aggressive and fast growing, while others are less aggressive and slow growing. The aggressive cancers harm the body by damaging vital organs and structures, and interfering with normal body functions.
Cancer has the ability to spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body via the blood circulation or lymph circulation. As the cancer cells travel to other parts of the body, it grows in the new destination and destroys the target organ.
However, cancer is not an infectious disease and does not spread from patient to patient through physical contact.
In Singapore, the top killer is cancer. Every one in four Singaporeans dies of cancer. From 2005 to 2009, the top five cancers in males are:
1. colon cancer
2. lung cancer
3. prostate cancer
4. liver cancer
5. stomach cancer
For females, the common cancers are:
1. breast cancer
2. colon cancer
3. lung cancer
4. uterine or womb cancer
5. ovarian cancer
Doctors who specialize in cancer diagnosis, treatment and prevention are called oncologists. The different types of oncologists include:
• Surgical oncologists, surgeons who perform cancer operations
• Medical oncologists, specialists who administer chemotherapy
• Radiation oncologists, specialists who give radiotherapy
• Nuclear oncologists, specialists who handle nuclear therapy
• Palliative Oncologists, specialists who deal with palliative care issues
These specialists do not work in isolation, but collaborate with one another as part of a multidisciplinary team, so as to achieve the best outcomes for the patient.