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Cancer is when cells behave in the wrong way. Cancer cells grow and divide and don’t die when they’re supposed to. This produces a lump of cells called a tumour. The tumour can damage the normal cells around it and stop them working properly. This is what makes the person ill.

What is it like for siblings if their brother or sister has cancer?

Some siblings who have a brother or sister with cancer enjoy the fact that they can spend lots of time with them. They might do things together like playing computer games or watching films. However, other siblings say that it can be very difficult for them if their brother or sister has cancer. They worry about them a lot which can mean that they find it hard to concentrate at school. Their brothers and sisters may have to spend a lot of time in hospital which means that they miss them, which can make them feel sad.

What causes cancer?

Doctors don’t know why some people get cancer and others don’t. Some things we do know is that cancer is not contagious you can’t catch it from someone else who has it. Smoking, drinking too much alcohol, or getting sunburnt too many times do not cause cancer but they can make someone more likely to get it when they are older.

What does it mean?

Tumours damage the cells near them. They can block blood vessels, the throat or other tubes in the body. The effect on a person depends on exactly where the tumour is, so everyone will be different. If tumours spread to other parts of the body they can make the person very seriously ill. People who have cancer have lots of tests to work out where the cancer is. These may be blood tests, X-rays or a biopsy and they will see a special doctor called an oncologist. 

What treatment is there?

Cancer can be treated in a number of ways:

  • Surgery – doctors will carry out an operation to remove as many cancer cells as possible.
  • Chemotherapy – this is the use of drugs to treat the cancer. This is usually given through an intravenous line (IV) – a bag of medicine is attached to a tube, and a needle on the end is put into one of the person’s blood vessels. The medicine can then flow in to kill the cancer cells. The medicine may also kill healthy cells which may mean that the person having the treatment loses their appetite, is tired or sick or loses their hair. However, once the treatment is finished, all these side effects go away.
  • Radiotherapy – this uses radio waves (like X-rays) to pass through the body to damage and destroy cancer cells. It can make tumours shrink or even go away completely. Many people with cancer find that it goes away after radiotherapy.

After the treatment, if all the signs of cancer are gone from the body then the person is said to be in remission.