Cancer develops when cells begin to grow and spread uncontrollably in the body, leading to different stages of cancer. It is often referred to as a malignant tumour. After invading surrounding tissues, cancerous tumours spread to different parts of the body and other organs. Nearly all parts of our body are susceptible to cancer. According to the latest cancer statistics in Hong Kong, colorectal cancer has surpassed lung cancer as the most common type of cancer, accounting for 17.3% of all types of cancer cases. The third most common cancer is breast cancer. In 2016, 31,468 new cancer cases had been recorded in Hong Kong, representing an increase of 3.8% by 1,150 from 2015.
As cancer has become increasingly prevalent, great strides have been made in cancer treatment, thanks to the advancement of medical technology. Early detection of cancerous tumours enables timely treatment through medical surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy that destroys cancer cells to facilitate a full recovery. Take lung cancer as an example. Early-stage lung cancer, with appropriate treatment, could result in a survival rate of approximately 90%. For patients diagnosed with late-stage cancer, ?the rise of innovative means of treatment such as targeted therapy and immunotherapy has been proved effective to prolong their lives.
Before cancer treatment begins, doctors will classify the tumour into five broad stages of cancer?from Stage 0 to Stage IV, according to the extent to which cancer has developed and spread. However, it is possible that the main tumour cannot be assessed. In Hong Kong, cancer staging primarily refers to the TNM staging system established by the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) from the United States and the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC). T describes the size of the tumour; N describes the spread of cancer to nearby lymph nodes; M describes metastasis (spread of cancer to other parts of the body).
Stage 0: Abnormal cells have been detected with the potential to become cancer and spread to surrounding normal-functioning tissues.
Stage I: Early-stage cancer has been developed, meaning that cancerous cells or tumour have been detected but they have not grown in other tissues and spread to different parts of the body such as lymph nodes.
Stage II: The primary tumour has grown larger into nearby tissues, with the possibility to spread into lymph nodes but not other parts of the body.
Stage III: The primary tumour has grown larger into surrounding tissues, spread into lymph nodes and beyond within other parts of the body.
Stage IV: Late-stage cancer has been identified, with the tumour becoming metastasised, spreading to new areas of the body.
Cancer can spread to almost all organs and parts of the body. Treatment combination and options hinge on the extent to which cancer has developed as determined by a range of factors from the location of cancer to stages of cancer?to the nature of cancer. Complemented with advanced medical technologies like genetic testing that improve medication effectiveness, the emergence of personalised cancer treatment has brought new hopes to patients in excruciating pain.
Many cancers are difficult to detect in the early stages. If you observe abnormal changes in your body such as sudden weight loss, loss of appetite and unusual fatigue for an extended period, you should consult a doctor immediately for a thorough body check-up. To reduce the risk of contracting cancer, it is important for us to follow a healthy lifestyle and stay away from smoking and alcohol.
Click below the types of cancer for more information.
- American Cancer Society 2017