Cancer. What is it?

In short, a cancer is a group of cells in your body that aren’t growing in a balanced way. Cells grow in our body’s tissues all the time. Normally, the numbers of cells stay the same – some cells die as others are ‘born’. But in cancer, cells are being born faster than they are dying. These cells can also move to other parts of the body, which is how cancer ‘spreads’.

The view on cancer has changed

At one time, cancer was ‘the big C’. It was a diagnosis everyone dreaded because the prognosis was so bleak. But in the past 20 years the picture has changed a lot. There have been great advances in diagnosis and treatment in many forms of the disease. In fact, we’re starting to see cancer as something that many people manage to live with, carrying on with their normal life as much as possible with periods of treatment.

Some cancer statistics

  • Around 320,500 people were diagnosed with cancer in the UK in 2009, which is the most recent figure available.
  • There are more than 200 different types of the disease, but just four – breast, lung, bowel and prostate cancer – account for more than half (54%) of all new cases.
  • Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK. It’s less common in men, but one in eight women will develop it at some point in their lives.
  • In 2011 Aviva spent nearly £46 million treating cancer patients. 13% of our corporate claims spend in 2011 was for cancer.
  • More than three out of five cancers are diagnosed in people aged 65 and over, and more than a third are in people aged over 75.

The future looks better

Overall, many cancer patients survive nearly six times longer than they did 40 years ago. We believe that more than 40% of people diagnosed today will still be alive in 10 years’ time.

Death rates from three of the UK’s most common cancers (breast, bowel and male lung cancer) have dropped to their lowest level for almost 40 years, and the number of women dying from breast cancer in the UK has gone down rapidly in the past 20 years. More than 75% of women diagnosed live beyond 10 years. More than three-quarters of children with cancer live, compared with only a quarter in the 1960s. Treatments, screening, awareness and prevention have all contributed to these improved survival rates.

What could this mean for you?

It’s good news. People with cancer are cared for better these days. Patients are likely to attend specialist centres offering the latest treatments, and get care that might include complementary therapies: anything from massage to art therapy, counselling and pastoral care. Support has improved, so there are services – and products, like ours – that could offer little things to help make a big difference. Things like making sure you have the right wig if you lose your hair during chemotherapy, or getting access to information that’ll help you with practical considerations like time off work and money or benefit payments.

See how our health insurance policies could help you.

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