Cancer: Types, Causes & Symptoms

by Meenakshi Nagdeve last updated -

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Cancer is one of the leading causes of death around the world. According to WHO, it causes 8.2 million deaths that are not related to communicable diseases every year.

What is Cancer?

Cancer is a disease characterized by the presence of continuously dividing cells. Cells are induced to divide due to certain external or internal stimuli. Initially, the growth of cells is localized, detectable, and removable, it is called a benign tumor. A benign tumor can be treated or removed via surgery. However, if the cells have traveled to distant body parts via the blood or lymphatic system, and started their division again, it forms a malignant tumor or cancer. This cannot be cured and often ends in the death of an individual.

Pencil eraser erasing cancer text written on a white background


There are different types of cancer; these include the cancer of the skin, bones, blood, ovaries, pancreas, breast, and more. There are almost as many types as there are organs in our body. Let us look at some of the most common ones in detail.

  • Breast Cancer: This is one of the most common types of invasive cancer in females. It starts off with a malignant tumor either in the lobules or the milk ducts. Around 18.5% of the overall breast cancer cases result in death over the globe every year, one of the causes being the eating and lifestyle habits of a person. Symptoms include a visible lump on or around the breast, redness of the breast skin, swelling and pain in the armpit, bloody discharge from the nipples, and change in the texture of nipple.
  • Lung Cancer: Uncontrolled growth of malignant tissue in the lung is the cause of lung cancer or lung carcinoma. It is the number one cause of death in the US. The biggest cause is exposure to tobacco smoke, be it passive or direct. Symptoms of lung cancer include shortness of breath, difficulty in swallowing, chest pain, wheezing, coughing, coughing up blood, and more.
  • Prostate Cancer: Prostate cancer begins in the prostate gland of the body, which is only found in men, and therefore only men are affected by this type. Most men with this disease usually go undiagnosed throughout their life, until death. This is due to its very slow progression and rather common symptoms.
  • Skin Cancer: Skin cancer is caused by a malignant growth of the skin and is also called carcinoma, which means a cancer of outer cover-forming tissues. There are three major types of skin cancers; basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. All these are commonly caused by exposure to harmful UV rays from the sun or tanning beds, radiation from x-ray machines, and immunosuppression as a result of HIV, chemotherapy, and other medications.

Cancer can manifest in a variety of different types based on its origins or mode of cell growth. Some other widely occurring types include the following:

  • Leukemia: Cancer of blood-forming cells.
  • Lymphoma: Cancer of the immune system cells.
  • Sarcoma: Cancer of the supportive tissues like cartilage and blood vessels.
  • CNS cancer: Cancer of the components of the central nervous system like the spinal cord and brain.


Cancer can be caused by a number of factors, these include environmental, lifestyle, and other behavioral patterns. Here, we discuss all the major, minor, and common factors that can lead to this deadly condition.

  • Carcinogens: Carcinogens are cancer-causing substances which include chemicals or physical and biological agents. Although the presence of carcinogens is harmful, it doesn’t mean that every carcinogen may necessarily cause cancer. Other factors like the amount of exposure and genetic background have an equal influence on the development of this condition.
  • Smoking and tobacco: Smoking and tobacco are enumerated as one of the biggest causes of cancer. They can cause lung, throat, esophagus, bladder, pancreatic, and respiratory tract cancer. Even those people who are indirectly exposed to cigarette smoke are at a risk of it. It is also believed that cigarette smoke is indirectly responsible for kidney, stomach, and liver cancer. Having said that, it’s not exactly tobacco that causes it, but rather the carcinogens or chemicals present in it that may result in this condition. These include nicotine, lead, benzene, carbon monoxide, ammonia, etc.
  • Diet and physical activity: Another cancer-causing factor is a genetically modified diet that has chemical toxins in it. A diet filled with fat, sodium, sugar, etc. can trigger obesity, which can thereby result in cancer. Therefore, it is very important to pay proper attention to what you’re eating and how you’re physically straining yourself to get rid of these toxins.
  • Radiation from the sun: There are many places where one can be exposed to radiations, like the X-ray machinesmines, etc. But, they are not the most prominent cause of radiation based cancers. Too much exposure to UV rays from the sun can cause skin damage and also lead to skin cancer. This is not to say that the sun is harmful; it just means that too much exposure to anything, even otherwise beneficial to health, can lead to drastic effects on your health.
  • Viruses and infections: There are many viruses and diseases that can cause cancer, if not paid proper attention. These include hepatitis B, hepatitis C, human papillomavirus, Epstein-Barr, etc. In developing and underdeveloped regions like Asia and Africa, the risk of parasitic organisms increases; like Clonorchis sinensis, Schistosoma haematobium, etc. Therefore, it is important that you live in proper hygienic conditions and drink clean water to avoid these parasites.

Other than these factors, it can also be a result of genetics or hormones. Though, rare, it can also be hereditary.


There are different symptoms of cancer in both men and women. They are sometimes clearly visible and other times hard to notice. Some of the common symptoms include:

  • Unusual discharge from the body
  • A persistent cough
  • Lumps at the place of the tumor
  • Changes in the bladder or bowel movements
  • Slow healing of wounds
  • Indigestion
  • Changes in shape or size of existing moles

Symptoms in women

  • Breast Cancer: Any changes in the breast, like the formation of any lumps, nipple discharge, puckering of the breast skin
  • Ovarian Cancer: Excessive bloating that continues for more than two weeks, accompanied by weight loss and bleeding
  • Other: Spotting or bleeding between periods, or bleeding after menopause can also be indicators.

Symptoms in men

  • Changes in urination, including difficulty in urinating, straining while urinating, blood in urine, etc.
  • Pain and tenderness in the hip bone and lower back.
  • Excessive coughing, blood in the mucus, without a stuffed nose or fever. Blood in the mucus can also be a symptom of lung cancer.
  • Presence of lumps on the testicles.
About the Author

Meenakshi Nagdeve is a health and wellness enthusiast and started working on Organic Facts since 2012 and is currently responsible for managing it. She follows naturopathy and believes in healing with foods. She has completed the Nutrition And Healthy Living Cornell Certificate Program, Cornell University. She holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Management from IIM Bangalore and B. Tech in Metallurgical Engineering and Materials Science from IIT Bombay. Prior to this, she worked for a few years in IT and Financial services. In her free time, she loves to travel and taste different types of teas.

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