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Your health and well-being


Cancer

What is it?

Cancer is an illness that originates in our cells. Our body consists of millions of cells, that are grouped together to form tissues and organs (muscles, bones, lungs, liver, etc.). Each cell contains genes that govern its development, functioning, reproduction and death. Normally, cells obey the instructions they receive and we remain in good health.

However, instructions sometimes become confused in certain cells. These cells therefore adopt unusual behaviour, and develop and multiply in a disorderly manner. After some time, groups of abnormal cells can begin to circulate in the blood or the immune system, or even form a mass called a tumour.

Tumours can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Cells that form benign tumours remain localized in one part of the body and generally do not harm a person's life.

Cells that create malignant tumours may invade neighbouring tissues and expand elsewhere.  Cancerous cells that spread to other parts of the body are called metastases.

The first sign of this invasion is often the swelling of the lymphatic nodes located near to the tumour, but the metastases can reach practically all body parts. It is important to detect and treat malignant tumours as quickly as possible.

The cancer is called after the body part in which it originates. For example, a cancer that develops in the bladder and spreads to the lungs is a cancer of the bladder with metastases in the lungs.

The four most common types of cancer are:

  • Colorectal
  • Lung
  • Prostate
  • Breast

Signs and symptoms

Cancer is manifested in various ways. It generally develops over many years before symptoms appear. The following symptoms can be signs of cancer. If they appear, consult a doctor.

A palpable mass, especially if it increases in size: a nodule in the breast, under the skin, in a gland, etc.
A beauty spot or a skin blemish that changes appearance, colour or size or that bleeds.  
Bleeding: blood in spittle, urine or the stool. For women, vaginal blood loss during their cycle or after menopause.
Persistent symptoms: a cough and unexplained hoarseness for over four weeks, difficulty swallowing, nausea and vomiting, a wound that does not heal in three weeks, diarrhoea or constipation for six weeks or more.
Retraction or discharge from the nipple.
Recurring and violent headaches.
Rapid, unexplained weight loss. 
Risk factors
Age
Family history of cancer
Poor lifestyle habits
Preventive measures
Reducing your personal risk of cancer means taking concrete action to prevent the onset of the disease. Your lifestyle as well as your living and work environment can have a positive or negative effect on this risk. It is important to know, however, that even a person "with low risk" may have cancer, just as a person "with high risk" may never be affected by it.

To reduce your risk, you can make the following choices:

Do not smoke and avoid tobacco smoke;
Follow a healthy diet;
Do physical activity everyday;
Maintain a healthy weight;
Limit your alcohol consumption;
Reduce your exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or from artificial tanning machines, for example tanning beds;
Know your body and inform your doctor or your dentist of any change;
Follow the health and safety guidelines when using hazardous products at home or work.
Treatment and support
No doctor can predict, with certainty, the development of cancer nor the chances of survival for a particular person. Available statistics give an idea of the prognosis for a large group of people, but these figures cannot be applied to one individual.

That being said, a large percentage of cancer patients are finally cured. The rate of recovery depends on many factors: the type of cancer (the place where the tumour originated), the extent of the cancer when diagnosed, the malignancy of the cells, the presence if any, of metastases, the availability of effective treatment, etc.       

National Cancer Month
April

National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month
March

Breast Cancer Awareness Month
October

National Cancer Survivors Day
June 7

Information and resources
Institut du cancer de Montréal (Montreal Cancer Institute)
Breast Cancer Action Montreal
Fondation québécoise du cancer
ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux (MSSS) – Cancer
Organisation québécoise des personnes atteintes de cancer (OQPAC)
Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation
Quebec Breast Cancer Screening Program (PQDCS)
Canadian Cancer Society
The Cancer Research Society 
Organisation multiressources pour les personnes atteintes de cancer (OMPAC)
Cancer Research Network
Canadian Breast Cancer Network
Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada
Prostate Cancer Canada Network 

Sources: CSSS Laval, PasseportSanté.net, Canadian Cancer Society.