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Cancer Comhrá - Cancer facts

Different coloured cancer ribbonsThrough Cancer Comhrá, we aim to ensure that Irish people in Britain are well informed about cancer, motivated to take preventive action and to get early diagnosis and high-quality treatment.

On this page, we have gathered some of the most frequently asked questions regarding cancer from reliable sources within both Britain and Ireland who have been listed below.

Cancer frequently asked questions

What is cancer?

Cancer is a term used to describe a group of illnesses all having certain common characteristics which include an over-growth of cells that forms a tumour.

There are over 200 different types of cancer, each with a specific name, treatment and chance of being cured.

Watch this video from the Irish Cancer Society- What is Cancer?

What are the most common cancers among both Irish men and women?

·       Prostate cancer

·       Breast cancer

·       Lung cancer

·       Colorectal (bowel) cancer

·       Melanoma skin cancer

What are the common cancers most likely to affect women?

·       Breast

·       Lung

·       Bowel

·       Melanoma

·       Womb (Uterine)

What are the common cancers most likely to affect men?

·       Prostate

·       Bowel

·       Lung

·       Melanoma

What is a tumour?

A tumour is an abnormal mass of tissue that forms when cells grow and divide more than they should or do not die when they should. Tumours may be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer).

Benign tumours may grow large but do not spread into, or invade, nearby tissues or other parts of the body.

Tumours cause medical problems in two ways:

·       Directly, by pressing on and damaging nearby organs.

·       Indirectly, by breaking off and invading other tissues and organs.

Can I stop cancer from developing?

Often cancer is caused by mistakes in our genes (mutations) that happen when cells divide. It’s not always possible to stop this from happening but avoiding carcinogens can reduce the risk. Carcinogens are any substance that cause cancer.

Ways to protect yourself include:

·       Don’t smoke – cigarette smoke contains many carcinogenic chemicals

·       Avoid alcohol – alcohol is a carcinogen, so drinking less will reduce your risk of cancer

·       Maintain a healthy body weight – extra fat can make your body produce extra hormones and growth factors. This causes your cells to divide more and in turn, creates a greater chance that a mutation might happen

·       Protect your skin – UV radiation from the sun and sunbeds can damage the DNA in your skin cells, which may cause cancer. It is advised for everyone to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day

·       Get vaccinated against HPV – the HPV virus is common and, in most instances, is harmless. But some types of HPV can damage DNA, which may cause cervical cancer or other cancers such as head and neck or anal cancer.

What if you have a genetic risk of cancer?

It is important to recognise that there is a strong genetic link to several common cancers. If you have a gene that increases your risk of a particular cancer, or if there is a lot of cancer in your family, it’s best to talk to your GP. They may recommend:

·       Genetic testing, which can help you to understand your risk 

·       Screening and checking for any changes in your body, which can help you to spot cancer early if it happens and get treatment as soon as possible 

·       Treatment to try and stop cancer developing. For example, some women with the BRCA gene, which increases the risk of breast cancer, decide to have their breasts removed 

NHS information on predictive genetic tests for cancer gene can be found here

Does smoking increase my likelihood of developing cancer?

Yes, Smoking is the single biggest cause of cancer, causing one third of all cancers.

Cigarettes contain over 7,000 chemicals: many of them are toxic, and 69 of them are known to cause cancer.

Nine out of 10 lung cancers are caused by smoking.

Half of all smokers will die from a tobacco-related disease.

Call the free National Smokefree Helpline on 0300 123 1044 or click here for more information on NHS smoking cessation supports.

What to do if you are worried?

Go to your doctor if you have signs you are worried about. Cancer can be difficult to diagnose in the early stages because the symptoms could be related to a number of different disorders which are not cancer.

Make a note of your symptoms, keep a diary if necessary, be firm but insistent that you want to be investigated.  Don’t be fobbed off.  Take somebody with you, if you don’t feel strong enough to insist on being investigated. 

If you don’t have cancer, the sooner you know, the less worry you have and if you have cancer, the earlier it is treated, the better chance of survival and less aggressive treatment you will have.

Talk to a cancer specialist

If you have a question about cancer, or you just need someone to listen, you can chat to a cancer expert on the Macmillan Support Line. From cancer treatment, to money worries, to feeling down, there is no problem too big or small and they will do whatever it takes to support you.

You might think other people need help more, but you shouldn't let that stop you from contacting them. Macmillan are there for everybody living with or affected by cancer and want to hear from you.

For free, confidential advice from a cancer specialist, you can:

  • call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00 (open 7 days a week, 8am to 8pm. Opening times may vary for different specialist teams).

  • request a call back at a time that works for you.

Chat through the online Macmillan chat service

Or, email the Macmillan Support line

 We are here to help

If you would like any additional support or information - please reach out to us and we will do our best to help you. Email Ellen, our Health and Wellbeing Development Office,

This information and more can be found on the following websites:

Irish Cancer Society

Cancer Research UK


Macmillan Cancer Support

Click here to go back to the main Cancer Comhrá webpage