Cancer can be a frightening word to hear and it can be a daunting task to sieve through all the information you might hear or read about your diagnosis. To help you and your loved ones understand things more clearly, below we provide a brief summary of the different aspects of cancer care.

What is a Cancer?

Cancer is the abnormal and uncontrolled replication of a small number of diseased cells. This can result in the growth of a cancerous lump within an organ of the body. These cells can also spread to other parts of the body and begin to grow there too. This is referred to as a ‘metastasis’ or ‘metastatic deposit’. A cancerous ‘lump’ or ‘lesion’ can also be referred to as ‘malignant’ (having the potential to spread) or a ‘malignant lesion’.

Not all ‘lumps’ or ‘growths’ are cancers. Those that are not cancers are often referred to as ‘benign’ or ‘non-malignant’.

You may also hear or read the word neoplasm: this is the medical term for a ‘lump’ or a ‘growth’ and again may be benign or malignant.

What type of cancer do I have?

There are many types of cancers. Cancers are usually classified based on the organ from which they have grown – this is normally determined from the scans and from the histopathology (what the cancer looks like under the microscope).

What do the scans tell?

  • They can usually tell us where the cancer is originating from and how far it has spread, also referred to as the ‘stage’ of the cancer.

What is histopathology?

This is what the cancer looks like under a microscope. The Pathologist will also be able to advise on how slow or fast growing the cancer would be expected to be, referred to as the ‘grade’ of the cancer.

How is Cancer diagnosed?

The diagnosis of a cancer will be based on a number of factors:

  • History – symptoms you are having may prompt your doctor to investigate for a cancer. Not every cancer (especially early on) will have symptoms.
  • Examination – some cancers can be suspected based on clinical signs, for example, a lump that can be felt or blood that you might see in your urine.
  • Blood tests – this is sometimes helpful in the diagnosis of a cancer, for example, PSA testing in prostate cancer. These are often not perfect tests but are helpful.
  • Imaging – scans can show if there is a growing lesion in the body: this can then lead to a diagnosis of cancer.
  • Biopsy – this is when a sample of the lesion is taken and the diagnosis of a cancer made on histopathology.
How is Cancer Treated?

Cancer treatment is delivered in a multidisciplinary setting: this means Health Professionals from different specialties such as Radiology, Pathology, Medical and Radiation Oncology as well as others will be involved in your treatment. Your Surgeon will help coordinate this care for you.

Your treatment may involve one or a combination of the following treatment modalities:

  • Surgical – usually performed with the aim of cure
  • Medical
    • Chemotherapy – if required, may be given before surgery, after surgery or as a stand-alone treatment
      • administered by a Medical Oncologist
    • Immunotherapy – in urological malignancy, is used in the setting of metastatic urothelial or renal malignancy
      • administered by a Medical Oncologist
    • Hormonal therapy – used in advanced prostate cancer
    • Other targeted therapies
  • Radiotherapy – commonly used in prostate cancer
    • Administered by a radiation oncologist
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