What is a cancer?

Cancer is a generic name for many diseases. There are many types of cancer, but they all start with abnormal cells that grow out of control. Other terms used are malignant tumors and neoplasm. One defining feature of cancer is the rapid creation of abnormal cells that grow beyond their usual boundaries, and which can then invade adjoining parts of the body and spread to other organs, the latter process is referred to as metastasizing. Metastases are the major cause of death from cancer.

What causes cancer?

Cancer arises from one single cell. The transformation from a normal cell into a tumor cell is a multistage process, typically a progression from a pre-cancerous lesion to malignant tumors.

These changes are the result of the interaction between a person's genetic factors and 3 categories of external agents, including:

  • Physical carcinogens, such as ultraviolet and ionizing radiation.
  • Chemical carcinogens, such as asbestos, components of tobacco smoke, aflatoxin (a food contaminant) and arsenic (a drinking water contaminant).
  • Biological carcinogens, such as infections from certain viruses, bacteria or parasites.

Ageing is another fundamental factor for the development of cancer.

Risk factors for cancers

  • Aging: Cancer can take decades to develop. That's why most people diagnosed with cancer are 65 or older.
  • Tobacco: Tobacco use is the single most important risk factor for cancer causing about 20% of global cancer deaths and around 70% of global lung cancer deaths.
  • Excessive exposure to the sun: frequent blistering sunburns, can cause skin cancer.
  • Being obese: A higher BMI is strongly associated with increased risk of colorectal cancer.
  • Some virus: Hepatitis B (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV) and some types of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) increase the risk for liver and cervical cancer respectively. Infection with HIV substantially increases the risk of cancer such as cervical cancer.
  • Family history: If cancer is common in your family, it's possible that mutations are being passed from one generation to the next.
  • The environment: Around you may contain harmful chemicals that can increase your risk of cancer. Chemicals in your home or workplace, such as asbestos and benzene, also are associated with an increased risk of cancer.

How can the burden of cancer be reduced?

Many cancers have a high chance of cure if detected early and treated adequately.

Prevention strategies

  • Increase avoidance of the risk factors listed above.
  • Vaccinate against human papilloma virus (HPV) and hepatitis B virus (HBV).
  • Control occupational hazards.
  • Reduce exposure to non-ionizing radiation by sunlight. (UV)
  • Reduce exposure to ionizing radiation (occupational or medical diagnostic imaging).
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Exercise most days of the week.
  • Schedule cancer screening exams.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.

How is cancer diagnosed?

Cancer mortality can be reduced if cases are detected and treated early.

There are 2 components of early detection efforts:
The awareness of early signs and symptoms (for cancer types such as skin, cervical, breast, colorectal and oral) in order to get them diagnosed and treated at early stage. Early diagnosis is particularly relevant when there are no effective screening methods.
Screening aims to identify individuals with abnormalities suggestive of a specific cancer or pre-cancer and refer them promptly for treatment or when feasible for diagnosis and treatment. Screening programmes are especially effective for frequent cancer types for which cost-effective, affordable, acceptable and accessible screening tests are available to the majority of the population at risk.
Examples of screening methods are:

  • Visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA) for cervical cancer in low-resource settings.
  • HPV testing for cervical cancer.
  • PAP cytology test for cervical cancer in middle- and high-income settings.
  • Mammography screening for breast cancer in high-income settings.

What are the treatments of cancer?

A correct cancer diagnosis is essential for adequate and effective treatment because every cancer type requires a specific treatment regimen which encompasses one or more modalities:

  • Surgery. The goal of surgery is to remove the cancer or as much of the cancer as possible.
  • Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells.
  • Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy uses high-powered energy beams, such as X-rays, to kill cancer cells. Radiation treatment can come from a machine outside your body (external beam radiation), or it can be placed inside your body (brachytherapy).
  • Stem cell transplant. Stem cell transplant is also known as bone marrow transplant. Your bone marrow is the material inside your bones that makes blood cells from blood stem cells. A stem cell transplant can use your own stem cells or stem cells from a donor.
  • A stem cell transplant allows your doctor to use higher doses of chemotherapy to treat your cancer. It may also be used to replace diseased bone marrow.
  • Immunotherapy. Immunotherapy, also known as biological therapy, uses your body's immune system to fight cancer. Cancer can survive unchecked in your body because your immune system doesn't recognize it as an intruder. Immunotherapy can help your immune system "see" the cancer and attack it.
  • Hormone therapy. Some types of cancer are fueled by your body's hormones. Examples include breast cancer and prostate cancer. Removing those hormones from the body or blocking their effects may cause the cancer cells to stop growing.
  • Targeted drug therapy. Targeted drug treatment focuses on specific abnormalities within cancer cells that allow them to survive.
  • Clinical trials. Clinical trials are studies to investigate new ways of treating cancer. Thousands of cancer clinical trials are underway.

Does my Insurance Policy cover Cancer?

Yes. According to CCHI unified Policy terms and conditions, health insurance policies in Saudi Arabia cover the treatment of cancer.

Please Click Here to access the Unified CCHI Policy Wordings.


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