About one quarter of all deaths are caused by cancer. Cancer can be detected early and may be prevented, and you can help to keep yourself at low risk. Find out how you can protect yourself or reduce the risk of cancer.

What is Cancer? 

Our body is made up of billions of cells. Normal healthy cells grow and multiply in an orderly, controlled manner. Cancer cells, on the other hand, multiply uncontrollably. They do not function normally and instead form a growth or tumour. These cancerous tumours can spread to nearby tissues and organs as well as to other parts of the body. Cancer kills by:
  • Destroying important organs
  • Disturbing normal bodily functions
  • Blocking important blood vessels or air passages

Types of Cancer  

Cancer is a group of diseases. There are many types of cancer which can arise from the different types of cells in the body.

The most common types of cancer in Singapore are:

​Male Female​
  • Colorectal cancer

  • Lung cancer

  • Prostrate cancer

  • Liver cancer

  • Lymphoid Neoplasms
  • Breast cancer

  • Colorectal cancer

  • Lung cancer

  • Ovarian cancer

  • Uterus cancer

Source: Singapore Cancer Registry Annual Report 2018 

Cancer Prevention 

Cancer is not contagious like flu or chickenpox. You cannot catch cancer from someone who has it.

Many cancers develop because of lifestyle habits such as smoking, excessive drinking of alcohol or eating too much fat (especially animal fat). Others are caused by factors in the environment such as sunlight, radiation and some industrial chemicals. By leading a healthy lifestyle and avoiding certain risk factors, about one third of all cancers can be prevented from occurring. 

Many people are afraid of cancer because they think it is a death sentence, but when cancer is detected early, treatment is at its most effective. Recognising the early warning signs and going for regular check-ups can save your life.

Lower Your Risk of Cancer by Leading a Healthy Lifestyle

Stay Away from Cigarettes and Cigarette Smoke 
Cigarette smoke contains about 40 different cancer-causing substances. Almost everybody who develops lung cancer is a smoker. Smoking also causes cancers of the mouth, throat, larynx (voice box), oesophagus (gullet), stomach, pancreas, kidney and bladder. Even if you don't smoke, breathing in other people's smoke can increase your risk of developing lung cancer; so if you do not smoke yourself, ask any smokers you live or work with to avoid smoking in your presence.

What you can do: 
  • Don't smoke. If you do, quit.
  • Get your family and friends to support your efforts to quit.
  • Throw away all your cigarettes and lighters.
  • Join a programme  or support group that helps smokers to quit.
  • Spend more time with non-smoking friends in smoke-free places.

Take More Fresh Fruit and Vegetables

Fruit and vegetables contain fibre and vitamins which help to reduce your risk of cancers such as colorectal (large intestine), breast and stomach cancer.

The chemicals used to process foods like ham, bacon and luncheon meat may increase one's risk of developing cancer when eaten in excess. These substances have also been found in salted or preserved food (such as salted fish or pickled vegetables) and may lead to cancer of the stomach and nasopharynx. But you don't have to give up these food items totally; just eat them less often.

Peanuts, seeds and grains that are not stored properly often become mouldy. Some of these moulds produce substances that can cause liver cancer.

What you can do:
  • Have some fresh fruit and vegetables at every meal.
  • Have a variety of fruits and vegetables as different fruits and vegetables contain different minerals, however, you may choose more dark-green leafy vegetables and orange-yellow fruits.  It is also important not to overcook your vegetables as vitamins are not tolerant to heat.
  • Consume more fibre by eating wholemeal bread or wholegrain cereals such as brown rice.
  • Avoid salted, pickled, preserved and processed foods if you can, or have them less often.
  • Store nuts in air-tight containers to prevent them from going mouldy. 

Overweight? Exercise Regularly and Eat Less Fatty Food 

People who are overweight are at risk of developing cancers of the colon, rectum, breast and prostate. To maintain a healthy weight, engage in regular physical activity or sport. Reduce your intake of food high in fat or sugar. Use a BMI Calculator to find out if your weight is in the healthy range.

What you can do:
  • Aim to stay in the healthy weight range. 
  • Engage in physical activity throughout the week, aiming for at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity and resistance exercises on at least two days.
  • Choose a game or sport that you enjoy and can participate in with your friends or family.
  • Trim fat from meat and skin from poultry before cooking or remove visible fats when eating.
  • Switch to food low in fat like skimmed milk, reduced fat cheese or low-fat yoghurt. Remember to cut back on your sugar intake too and look out for reduced or no sugar items such as your low/no sugar soymilk or coffees and teas. 
  • Use low-fat cooking methods like stewing, baking, steaming or boiling instead of deep-frying.
  • If you feel the urge to nibble, choose healthier snacks like fresh fruit or wholemeal crackers. 

Prevent Sunburn and Avoid Overexposure to the Sun

Frequent sunburn may lead to skin cancer as the ultraviolet rays from the sun damage the skin. Fair-skinned people are more prone to skin cancer.

What you can do:
  • Avoid overexposure to the sun. Try to avoid direct sunlight between 10am to 4pm as the UV rays are the strongest.
  • Stay in the shade whenever possible. 
  • Wear a hat or a cap. 
  • Use a sunscreen or sunblock with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 on all exposed areas of skin. Remember to reapply your sunblock every 4 hours.

Comply With Safety Regulations if You Are Exposed to Cancer-causing Substances at Work

Always follow the safety regulations — they are there to protect you.

What you can do:
  • Take cover behind protective shields or stay in the "safe" area.
  • Remember to wear your personal protective equipment (like gloves, masks or goggles).
  • Learn how to handle the equipment or the chemicals properly. Pay attention to safety drills and know what to do in case of emergencies.

Avoid Excessive Alcohol If You Drink

People who frequently drink large amounts of alcohol are at higher risk of developing liver cancer. They are also at risk of developing cancer of the mouth, throat and oesophagus (gullet).

What you can do:
  • If you drink, limit yourself to no more than two standard drinks a day. One standard drink is roughly equal to:
    • One can of beer (285ml) 
    • One glass of wine (120ml)
    • One measure of spirits (30ml) 
  • Alternate your alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic ones. Drink them slowly so they last longer.

Cancer Symptoms

Notice any unusual lumps, sores, moles or bleeding? These could be early warning signs that you should report to your doctor.

Be on the alert for:
  • A lump (which may not be painful) in the breast, neck, armpit, groin or anywhere else on your body
  • A sore or an ulcer anywhere on the body, including the mouth, which does not heal properly
  • Recent changes in the size, shape or colour of a mole on the skin
  • Abnormal bleeding from the nose or any other part of the body, and blood in the stools
  • Problems that won't go away or get better, like a persistent cough (with or without phlegm), hoarseness of voice, indigestion or discomfort, loss of weight for no reason, a change in bowel habits (such as persistent diarrhoea or constipation)

Tell your doctor about such changes immediately. He can examine you and do some tests to find out if your problem is serious.

Cancer Diagnosis

Early Detection May Save Your Life

Go for regular mammography. The risk of breast cancer for women increases with age. Women between the ages of 50 and 69 are encouraged to go for a  mammography (X-Ray of the breast) once every two years and women aged 40 to 49 years old should go for mammography once every year. Besides going for regular mammography, carry out monthly breast self-examination to check for any breast changes.

What you can do:
  • Learn how to do breast self examination (BSE) properly and then do BSE one week after your menstrual period every month. Check for any breast changes.
  • Make an appointment for a mammogram once every two years if you are between 50 to 69 years old. 
  • Ask your doctor about mammograms if you are over 40 years of age.

Regular Cervival Cancer Screening

A cervical cancer screening test is a simple and quick test to see one's risk of developing cervical cancer. Go for your regular cervical screening test once you are 25 years old and have ever had sex.

What you can do:
  • Go for a Cervical Cancer Screening (Pap or HPV test) regularly (3 years for Pap and 5 years for HPV)
  • If you have any of the following, see your doctor immediately: 
  • Vaginal bleeding after sexual intercourse
  • Irregular bleeding between menstrual periods or after menopause
  • Foul-smelling vaginal discharge

Speak to your doctor about your personal and family medical history. Certain medical conditions may increase your risk of developing some cancers. For example, people who are carriers of the Hepatitis B virus are more likely to develop liver cancer. Women infected with certain sexually-transmitted infections have a higher chance of getting cervical cancer.

Your doctor can advise you on how to prevent such conditions. But if you already have them, he can tell you what steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing cancer.

Some cancers (like breast and colorectal cancers) tend to run in families. If your parents, brothers or sisters have had cancer, discuss it with your doctor. He may recommend some screening tests to help determine your risk for developing the same cancer.

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