Cancer is a disease of the cells. These cells work to replace worn out cells, heal damaged cells and help in growth. Cells are regenerated by certain genes. When these genes grow or multiply abnormally and grow into a lump (tumour), it becomes cancer. There are two classifications for cancer:
- Benign: generally not cancerous and do not spread to other parts of the body. However, some could be precancerous and may progress to cancer if untreated.
- Malignant: cancerous and if not treated early, may spread and affect other parts of the body, becoming invasive cancer.
These damaged cells can also move away from the original (primary) cancer area through local tissue fluid channels (lymphatics) or the blood stream, invading other organs. When these cells reach a new site, they may continue to grow, forming a new tumour at that area. This is known as secondary cancer or metastasis.
There are no definite answers on what causes most cancers. Lifestyle habits and recreation or substances in our environment affecting the body are commonly identified as highly possible risk factors. Other identified high risk factors for cancer include smoking, diet, chemicals and asbestos. Cancer is not contagious; you will not catch it by coming into contact with someone who has it.
It is likely to have someone in the family who has (or had) cancer. If someone in your family has/had cancer, it could mean:
- Cancer has developed by chance in your family (most common)
- You may have an increased risk of getting cancer
- May have an inherited faulty gene causing an increased chance of cancer. This only involves up to 5% of certain cancers.
- According to estimates, there are about 90-100,000 people in Malaysia living with cancer at any one time.
- The National Cancer Registry of Malaysia (NCR) records 21,773 Malaysians being diagnosed with cancer but estimates that almost 10,000 cases are unregistered every year.
- It is estimated that one in four Malaysians (1:4) will develop cancer by 75 years old.
- Increasing population and longer life spans contributes to rise of cancer. Less than 10% of cancers happen in children compared to over 50% in men and 35% in women aged 50 and above.
- Cancer occurs more in females than males with a ratio of male to female 1:1.2
- The cancer incidence out of 100,000 people are:
- 4,058 Malay males and 4,753 Malay females are diagnosed with cancer
- 4,078 Chinese males and 4,422 Chinese females are diagnosed with cancer
- 629 Indian males and 1065 Indian females are diagnosed with cancer
The top 5 cancers affecting both male and female in Malaysia are:
- Colorectal (bowel)
- Although considered the 3rd leading cause of premature death in Malaysia, only 30-40% of all deaths from cancer are medically certified, meaning there is no exact figure of people dying from cancer.
- Findings show that 10.3% of Malaysians risk dying from the disease before 75 years old. (Globocan, 2008)
- Cancer is becoming a leading cause of death due to avoidable risk factors like smoking and tobacco exposure, poor diet, alcohol, inadequate exercise or being overweight.
- It is estimated that nearly 40% of all cancers are preventable, including colorectal, lung and cervical cancers, with smaller effects in breast and nasopharyngeal cancer.
- Improvement in early detection and treatment leads to better survival rates for people with cancer.