Overview - Cancer

Cancer is a condition where cells in a part of your body grow and reproduce uncontrollably. The cancerous cells can invade and destroy surrounding healthy tissue, including organs.

Cancer sometimes begins in one part of your body before spreading to other areas. This process is known as metastasis.

More than 1 in 2 people will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime.

In Ireland, the 5 most common types of cancer are:

  • prostate cancer
  • breast cancer
  • bowel cancer
  • lung cancer
  • skin cancer

There are more than 200 different types of cancer. Each type is diagnosed and treated in their own way.

A classification system is used to describe the amount and spread of cancer in a patient's body called TNM.

  • T describes the size of the tumour and any spread of cancer into nearby tissue
  • N describes spread of cancer to nearby lymph nodes
  • M describes metastasis - the spread of cancer to other parts of the body

You can find links on this page to information about other types of cancer.

Spotting signs of cancer

Changes to your body's normal processes or unexplained symptoms can be early signs of cancer.

Symptoms you should ask a GP to check include:

  • a new lump/bump that appears on your body
  • a changing lump or bump
  • unexplained bleeding
  • changes on your skin
  • losing weight without trying
  • constantly tired
  • changes to your bowel habits
  • a new, persistent cough

Often, your symptoms will not have anything to do with cancer. They'll be caused by other, non-cancerous health conditions.

Read more about the signs and symptoms of cancer

Reducing your risk of cancer

Changes to your lifestyle can have a big impact on reducing your risk of developing cancer.

You can reduce your risk by:

You cannot reduce your risk of cancer completely. But you could prevent common cancers by staying healthy.

Take part in cancer screening programmes. These can help diagnose the early stages of cancer, or find and treat conditions that can lead to cancer:

Read more about screening and vaccinations

Cancer treatment

Surgery is the first treatment for most types of cancer. If your tumour is solid, a surgeon can usually remove it.

Two other common treatments are:

  • chemotherapy
  • radiotherapy

Chemotherapy is when powerful medicine is used to kill the cancer.

Radiotherapy uses high-energy x-rays to treat the cancer.

Your treatment will depend on the type of cancer you have and at what stage it's at.

Cancer support in the community

Community cancer support centres are in most local communities and provide support services for cancer patients, their families and carers. The centres provide remote and in-person services.

The support services provided by cancer support centres include:

  • counselling and psychological support
  • manual lymphatic drainage
  • physical activity programmes
  • survivorship programmes
  • complementary therapies

Survivorship Programmes include the Cancer Thrive & Survive (CTS) programme.

The Together 4 Cancer Concern (T4CC) national helpline is a free service provided by telephone and is available anywhere in Ireland. The service provides psychological support to adult and paediatric cancer patients and their families.

It can be accessed through the Irish Cancer Society’s Support line Freephone 1800 200 700. Everyone, no matter what their level of distress, can access the right support, at the right time.


Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

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