Skip to 0 minutes and 4 secondsGILL KILGOUR: Cancer is a huge and sometimes confusing subject, which is perhaps why many people are put off from having a conversation about cancer. But this doesn't have to be the case. We believe that many people avoid talking about cancer because we worry that we don't have enough information to start the conversation. Another common concern is that once the conversation starts, we may not know what to say, or have the right answers to questions that come up. Let's start with some basic information about cancer, in simple terms, to help give you the confidence to start the conversation. Please bear in mind, the facts we will talk about apply to the UK, but may vary elsewhere.

Skip to 0 minutes and 49 secondsWe'll talk you through some of the key facts and figures, and give an overview of what cancer is, and how it starts. We'll then talk through the difference that your conversation could make in terms of encouraging prevention and early diagnosis. Key UK facts-- one in two people born in the UK, after 1960, will develop cancer in their lifetime. There were around 352,000 new cases of cancer in the UK in 2013. More than four in 10 cases of cancer could be prevented, largely through healthy lifestyle changes. It's more common as we get older; most cases are in people aged 50 or over.

Skip to 1 minute and 35 secondsOne in five cases are diagnosed through emergency routes, and patients diagnosed this way are more likely to have later-stage disease, and therefore, lower chances of survival. One in two people diagnosed with cancer now survive their disease for 10 or more years. Genetic specialists estimate only 2% to 3% of all cancers are caused by a fault in a gene that has been passed down in the family. So what is cancer? Cancer happens when the DNA that makes up the genes in our cells becomes damaged, and causes a cell to stop functioning properly. Damage could happen just because the body isn't perfect. And sometimes, it makes mistakes when copying DNA to make new cells.

Skip to 2 minutes and 23 secondsBut damage could also be caused by things like tobacco smoke, or too much UV radiation from the sun. If enough damage builds up, a cell can start to divide in an uncontrolled way, making copies of itself, which can lead to a tumour. How many different types are there? In our experience, many people don't realise that there are over 200 different types of cancer. This is because we have around 200 different types of cells in our body, and they all have the potential to go wrong. Even within these 200 cancers, there are subtypes. For example, there are over 10 different types of breast cancer, and they may all have different treatments.

Skip to 3 minutes and 13 secondsThis means that two people diagnosed with the same cancer, at the same time, may have completely different treatment for their disease. Really, when we use the word cancer, we are describing lots of different diseases that all have different signs and symptoms, and a variety of different treatments. This is why cancer can be complicated. And it's important that if people want to talk about their particular cancer, that they are directed towards their specialist team. Four most common cancers-- out of the more than 200 different types of cancer, there are four that are more common than all the others put together, making up over half of all of the cancers diagnosed in the UK every year.

Skip to 4 minutes and 0 secondsThese are breast, prostate, lung, and bowel cancers. You can see how many more cases there are of these, compared to other cancer types.

Skip to 4 minutes and 12 secondsMost common treatments-- you may have heard of the most common treatments for cancer-- surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy. People diagnosed with cancer may have only one of these treatments, or a combination. You may have heard of others, but let's keep this simple. You can visit Cancer Research UK's website for more information. Primary and secondary cancers-- when we speak to people, they're often confused about primary and secondary cancers. A primary cancer is the name for where a cancer starts. Cancer can also spread to other parts of the body, and this is called a secondary cancer, or a metastases. This happens when cells are broken off from the primary site, and travel to another part of the body.

Skip to 5 minutes and 6 secondsWhen this happens, the treatment will still be for the primary cancer that has spread. For example, if bowel cancer spreads to a different part of the body, the treatment will still be for a secondary bowel cancer. This is important to know when looking for information about cancer treatments.

Skip to 5 minutes and 29 secondsSurvival-- many people still think of cancer as a death sentence. But one in two of those diagnosed with cancer now survive the disease for 10 years or longer. This is twice as many as 40 years ago, so it's getting better. However, this is for the overall picture. Survival is much better for some cancers than for others, as you can see from this graph. Nowadays, some types of cancer are treated as a chronic disease, similar to the way we now think of some types of heart disease, and diabetes. Prevention-- there are things that we know that can reduce our risk of cancer.

Skip to 6 minutes and 13 secondsYou may remember some of these from the quiz, such as not smoking, keeping a healthy weight, cutting down on alcohol, eating a healthy, balanced diet, keeping active, and enjoying the sun safely. You can also see here that different cancers are associated with different risk factors. Scientists have estimated that more than four in 10 cases of cancer be prevented, largely through healthier lifestyles. Early diagnosis-- thousands of lives could be saved if cancer was diagnosed earlier in the UK. For example, when bowel cancer is diagnosed at the earliest stage, more than 9 out of 10 people survive their disease for five years or more, compared with less than one in 10 when diagnosed at the later stage.

Skip to 7 minutes and 8 secondsEarly diagnosis plays a big part in how successful treatment might be. The sooner we catch cancer, the more likely it is that we can treat it successfully. That's where the power of a good conversation comes in-- you can encourage people to spot cancer earlier, by going to seek medical advice or see their GP. However, we are aware it's not always possible to diagnose cancers early. Signs and symptoms-- because there are so many different types of cancer, each with its own set of possible signs and symptoms, we can't learn them all. But we don't need to. There really is only one thing to remember, which is, if it's not normal for you, get it checked.

Skip to 7 minutes and 58 secondsThis doesn't mean we need to regularly check our bodies in a particular way, or at a particular time. But if you spot something that's not normal for you, it's important to tell your doctor.

Skip to 8 minutes and 11 secondsCancer screening-- another way to spot cancer early is through the NHS cancer screening programmes. That are currently three cancer screening programmes in the UK-- bowel, breast, and cervical. The purpose of screening is to test apparently healthy people for any signs of the disease before they develop symptoms. We know that cancer screening saves thousands of lives every year, because it can detect cancers at an early stage. And in some cases, even prevent cancers from developing in the first place. But screening is not perfect. The tests can miss cancers, and have other risks, too. Whether or not someone goes for screening is their choice, and people need balanced information to help them make that decision.

Skip to 9 minutes and 3 secondsInformation is sent with the screening invitation, and there's lots of further information available, for example from Cancer Research UK. We've only covered the basics here. So please follow the links below to our website for more information. Make sure you check out the local stats tool, too, to find out what's happening in your area. We know that cancer can be complicated, and that's often why people feel too uncomfortable to talk about it. We don't expect you to remember all the key facts, but just talking about cancer is the important thing. It's fine to say, I don't know, to questions that might be raised. We will talk more about where to direct people for information in Week 3.

Skip to 9 minutes and 46 secondsBut for now, choose one of the following resources to take a look at in more detail. Find something you think might be useful to use in a conversation about cancer, and share your findings in the comment section.

Key facts and health messages about cancer

People can be reluctant to talk about cancer because they don’t think they have enough information to start a conversation.

Some people may be concerned that they won’t know what to say or have the right answers to questions. Knowing key facts and health messages can help build up confidence for talking about cancer.

Watch Gill make some of the key facts and messages easy to understand. The video is 10 minutes long, so remember you can pause it as you see fit, and return to it anytime during the course. You can also download a transcript in the downloads section below. Refer back to this if you need a reminder of these talking points in the future.

Activity and discussion

  • Choose one of the links below, from the Cancer Research UK website, and have a look. Afterwards, use the back button on your screen to return to the course:

    About Cancer


    Causes of cancer and reducing risk

    Early Diagnosis

  • What additional facts and health messages did you find that may be useful? And why?

  • Please share your findings in the comments section.

  • You may want to make a note of these links so you can refer back to them in the future. You can share the links with others if they ask you a question you can’t answer and encourage them to seek information themselves.

Don’t forget you can ‘like’ others’ ideas and comments, and choose who to follow.

Optional activity

  • If you are in the UK, you may want to try the local statistics tool on the Cancer Research UK website and find out what is happening in your area.
  • Does anything surprise you?
  • Share what you have learned by using the comments section.
  • Compare what is happening in your area with what others are reporting in their communities.

What’s next?

In the next step we will listen to a conversation Anita has with her friends about cancer. See which myths and facts you can spot.

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Talking About Cancer

Cancer Research UK