What is Cancer

Cancer Basics

Cancer is a disease of the cells, which are the body's basic building blocks. The body constantly makes new cells to help us grow, to replace worn-out tissue and to heal injuries.
Normally, cells multiply and die in an orderly way.
But, sometimes cells don't grow, divide and die in the usual way. This may cause blood or lymph fluid in the body to become abnormal, or form a lump called a tumour. A tumour can be benign or malignant:
  • Benign tumour: Cells are confined to one area and are not able to spread to other parts of the body. This is not cancer.
  • Malignant tumour: This is made up of cancerous cells, which have the ability to spread by travelling through the bloodstream or lymphatic system (lymph fluid).   
The beginnings of cancer
The cancer that first develops in a tissue or organ is called the primary cancer. A malignant tumour is usually named after the organ or type of cell affected.
A malignant tumour that hasn't spread to other parts of the body is called localised cancer. A tumour may invade deeper into surrounding tissue and can grow its own blood vessels (angiogenesis).
If cancerous cells grow and form another tumour at a new site, it's called a secondary cancer or metastasis. A metastasis keeps the name of the original cancer. For example, bowel cancer that has spread to the liver is called metastatic bowel cancer, even though the person may be experiencing symptoms caused by problems in the liver. 
How cancer spreads

Cancer in Malaysia
  • Globocan (2012) reported a registered number of 37, 426 cases of all cancers (excluding non-melanoma skin cancers) in Malaysia.
  • Cancer occurs more in females than males with a ratio of male to female 1:1.2

The 5 Most Frequent types of cancer in Malaysians (Globocan, 2012)
Male Female
Total Cases (18, 125) Total Cases (19, 301)
Lung (3240) Breast (5410)
Colorectum (2563) Cervix Uteri (2145)
Nasopharynx (1487) Colorectum (1976)
Prostate (1186) Lung (1163)
Stomach (1177) Ovary (1098)
  • Although considered the fourth 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 15% of Malaysians are at risk of getting cancer before the age of 75 and 9.2% of Malaysians risk dying from the disease before the age of 75 years old.
  • 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.
  • Improvement in early detection and treatment leads to better survival rates for people with cancer.