Hesperian Health Guides

Hesperian Health Guides

Chapter 24: Cancer and Growths

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HealthWiki > Where Women Have No Doctor > Chapter 24: Cancer and Growths


women discussing a list of ways to prevent cancer: nutritious food, protection from STIs, and not smoking or chewing tobacco

Cancer is a serious sickness that can affect many different parts of the body. If it is treated early it is often curable, but if left too long it can cause death. Many people who get cancer die from it, especially those with little access to health care.

Women often do not see a health worker or doctor unless they are very sick. So women who get cancer are more likely to get very sick or die because the cancer is not found early enough. Also, women who get cancer are sometimes considered ‘cursed’ and may be shunned by their families or communities. This isolation is not only bad for the women who are sick, but also for the whole community, since it keeps everyone from knowing about how cancer makes people sick.

a microscope

What is cancer?

All living things, like the human body, are made up of tiny cells that are too small to see without a microscope. Sometimes these cells change and grow in an abnormal way, causing growths (tumors). Some growths go away without treatment. But some growths get larger or spread and may cause health problems. Most growths do not become cancer, but some do.

‘Tumor’ is another word for growth or swelling. Some tumors are cancer and some are not.


Cancer starts when some cells begin to grow out of control and take over parts of the body. When cancer is found early, it can often be removed by surgery, or treated with medicines or radiation, and the chance of it being cured may be good. Once cancer spreads, however, curing it is more difficult and eventually becomes impossible.


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