Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, Stages and Prevention

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Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the world. In this article, we will look at how the disease develops, and the useful tips to lower the chance of getting this dangerous disease.

Young women is suffering breast cancer
Breast cancer is the no.1 diagnosed cancer among Singaporean women

What is cancer?

Cancer is a disease in which the body’s cells grow out of the control. Trillions of cells make up the human body. They support the body’s structure, absorb nutrients from food, convert those nutrients into energy, and perform specialized functions.

Normally, human cells grow and multiply to form new cells as the body needs them. Cells die when they become old or damaged, and new cells replace them. Cancer develops when something goes wrong in this process and your cells continue to produce new cells while the old or abnormal ones do not die as they should.

What is the cancer stage?

When a cancer is discovered, tests are performed to determine whether it has spread from its original location. This is referred to as the cancer stage.

A lower stage (such as stage 1 or 2) indicates that it has not spread widely.

A higher number (such as stage 3 or 4) indicates that it has spread further. The fourth stage is the most advanced.

The stage of cancer is critical in determining the best treatment for a person. Inquire with your doctor about the stage and what it means for you.

What causes cancer?

According to the World Health Organization, WHO, cancer develops from the transformation of normal cells into tumor cells in a multi-stage process that generally progresses from a pre-cancerous lesion to a malignant tumor

These changes are the result of a person’s genetic factors interacting with three types of external agents, which include:

  • Physical carcinogens, such as ultraviolet and ionizing radiation;
  • Chemical carcinogens, such as asbestos, components of tobacco smoke, aflatoxin (a food contaminant), and arsenic (a drinking water contaminant); and
  • Biological carcinogens, such as infections from certain viruses, bacteria, or parasites.

Age is also considered a risk factor, as we get older, the risk of mutation increases.

Common cancers in Singapore

According to the Singapore Cancer Society, during the period from 2014 to 2018, an average of 41 people are diagnosed with cancer daily, with 15 people dying from it every day. Although 1 in 4 people may develop this disease in their lifetime. Here are some common cancers among males and females in Singapore:

Top 5 cancers diagnosed in Singapore
In fact, 1 in 4 people in Singapore is expected to develop cancer in their lifetime

Some general symptoms of cancer

It is critical to be aware of the general signs and symptoms of cancer. It can aid in the earlier detection and treatment. Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms to consult your doctor about:

  • Weight loss: Unexplained, significant weight loss (5kg/10lbs over a couple of months) and
  • Fatigue: Feeling extremely tired unexplained
  • A lump anywhere on your body
  • Skin changes on your skin or to an existing mole (such as itching, bleeding, or a change in shape or color)
  • Pain: Especially new or with no known reason, that doesn’t go away or gets worse
  • A change in bowel habit that lasts for three weeks or more: Constipation, diarrhea, and other bowel issues may be a sign of colorectal cancer.
  • Symptoms that refuse to clear up, e.g. a cough or hoarseness that lasts for more than three weeks or a sore that doesn’t heal
  • Indigestion or difficulty in swallowing

If you regularly experience any of the above symptoms, you shouldn’t ignore it.


There is no sure way to prevent cancer. But there are some things you can do that might lower your risk of getting it:

Have a healthy diet: Reduce your intake of saturated fat and red meat. Increase your consumption of broccoli, cabbage, kale, watercress, or other cruciferous vegetables and fruits. They protect against DNA damage that can turn cells cancerous.

Get moving: Being physically active is beneficial to your health and aids in maintaining a healthy weight. You don’t have to join a gym; quick walking and carrying heavy shopping bags count.

Cut back on alcohol: If you choose to drink, limit yourself to an average of one drink a day. Excess alcohol increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, liver, and colon.

Maintain a healthy weight: Research has shown that being overweight or having obesity raises a person’s risk of getting endometrial (uterine), breast in postmenopausal women, and colorectal cancers.

Practice safer sex: About 70% of cervical cancers start with human papillomavirus (HPV) types 16 and 18. To be safe, use a latex condom whenever you have sex.

Vaccination: Infections caused by hepatitis B and the human papilloma virus (HPV) can lead to cancers. Nowadays, vaccines are available for some of these viruses.

Get screenings: Screenings are tests that look for cancer before signs and symptoms develop. These tests can find diseases earlier when treatments are more likely to be successful.

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Reference: WebMD, Harvard Health Publishing, World Health Organization,


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