General information about cancer and cancer registration.
What is cancer?
Cancer is a general term for a variety of diseases with common features. It originates when normal cells in the human body multiply in an uncontrolled manner, grow into healthy tissue and damage it. They become cancer cells. Cancer cells can migrate from their point of origin and form secondary growths, known as metastases.
Cancers can be traced to changes in the genotype. Several factors are known, which favour those changes, which can play a role in the emergence of cancer, for example:
- the natural process of ageing,
- lifestyle (e.g. smoking, consumption of alcohol, etc.)
- external factors (e.g. viruses, hazardous substances, tobacco smoke, UV radiation),
- inherited or genetic factors.
It is possible to influence some of these factors; conversely, others cannot be influenced. It is estimated that some third of cancers could be prevented by avoiding risk factors, such as tobacco or alcohol. The other diseases can be traced to factors, which cannot be influenced or which are unknown. Almost 90% of cancers appear in persons from the age of 50 years. In approximately 5 - 10% of the cases, it is presumed that the origin of the cancer is influenced by inherited characteristics. In families, thus affected cancer appears in every generation and frequently at a young age.
Cancer registration allows us to gain knowledge as to how cancers originate and how the disease progresses. The database from cancer registers is also used to observe the development of cancers at the population level.
Cancer in Switzerland
Life expectancy in the Swiss population has almost doubled in the last 100 years. Because of the higher life expectancy, non-communicable diseases, which appear predominantly at a more advanced age (e.g. cancers, cardiovascular diseases or diabetes), have significantly increased in the last few decades.
Currently, in Switzerland, more than 40,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed each year; almost 17,000 men and women die from cancer every year. This has made cancer the second most frequent cause of death in Switzerland, after cardiovascular diseases and it is responsible for about one quarter of all deaths. More than half the incidences of cancer are distributed over four types of cancer. In men, the most frequently diagnosed cancers are prostate, lung or colon cancer. In women, the most commonly diagnosed cancers are breast, lung or colorectal cancer. Because of demographic development, both the number of incidences and the number of deaths continue to increase. The Federal Statistical Office (FSO) estimates that deaths caused by cancer will increase by about one third in the next 20 years. At the same time, the number of "sufferers", i.e. the number of patients living with a cancer disease will also increase significantly. Currently, in Switzerland, this group already comprises some 370,000 people.
Cancer diseases in children and adolescents are rare. In Switzerland about 400 children and adolescents develop cancer each year. Children develop types of cancer different from those of adults. The most frequent cancers in children are leukaemia, brain tumours, and a range of rare tumours arising from immature embryonic tissue, which do not occur in adults. In the last few decades, the survival probability for children with cancer has significantly improved. Many children can be cured. However, these former patients have a high risk of developing later complications. Late complications are health problems occurring years after cancer, e.g. cardiovascular diseases, infertility, impaired hearing, further development of tumours or psychological problems. Since these young patients have many years of life before them, it is important that their health is regularly monitored in the long term.