Cancer: what is it?

Cancer is a disease where abnormal cells divide without control, and usually form a lump (called a tumour) as their numbers increase. Cancer cells can invade nearby tissues and can spread through the bloodstream and lymphatic systems to other parts of the body.

Cancer cases on the rise in Singapore

In Singapore, a total of 56,316 cases of cancer were diagnosed in Singapore’s resident population during the period 2008-2012. Of these cancer cases, 48.8 per cent were male and 51.2 per cent were female.

Common cancers by gender

Lung cancer and breast cancer had the highest mortality rates in males and females respectively. Lung cancer accounted for 27.6 per cent of cancer deaths among males in Singapore and breast cancer accounted for 17.9 per cent of cancer deaths among females.

Among ethnic groups, both males and females, the incidence of cancer was highest among the Chinese, with 23,164 males and 23,925 females suffering from the disease. They were followed by the Malays, 2,326 males and 2,840 females; and then the Indians, 1,237 males and 1,423 fema​les.

Colorectal, lung and prostate cancer were the top ranked cancers among the male resident population (Figure 1), while breast, colorectal and lung cancer were the top ranked cancers among female residents (Figure 2).

Ten Most Frequent Cancers in Males
Ten Most Frequent Cancers in Females

Some cancer risk factors are within your control while some are not

The majority of cancer cases are sporadic, i.e. the disease is not inherited. By pure chance, many cases of "common" cancers such as breast, colon and lung cancers can appear to run in a family. Your personal risk depends on factors such as your age, family history of cancer and your tendency to inherit cancer genes. These are beyond your control. Other risk factors that are within our control are not genetic. These include our lifestyle, diet, smoking and environmental exposure. We must work to reduce or prevent these risk factors.

Prevention and early detection of cancer

Although great advances have been made in the treatment of cancer, the impact on survival rates has been incremental rather than dramatic. Many cancer patients are also diagnosed relatively late, at which stage their treatment options are often severely limited. Prevention and early detection of cancer are therefore key strategies in cancer control efforts. You must be responsible for your own health – only you hold the key to your well-being.

Ref: R14