Types of cancer
There are many different types of cancer, but here we will focus on two types that can be treated by immunotherapy: non-small cell lung cancer and skin melanoma.
Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)
NSCLC is a type of lung cancer that forms in the cells of the lung. There are different types of NSCLC which are named according to the types of cells in which the cancer is found. The three main types are:
- Squamous cell carcinoma
- Large cell carcinoma
NSCLC may be described in “stages” by your doctor. Typically, it is classified in 5 stages: 0 through 4. The higher the stage number, the more the cancer has spread.
The biggest risk factor for developing NSCLC is smoking, either now or in the past. However, there are other factors that can increase your risk of developing NSCLC, which include:
- Being exposed to second-hand smoke
- Exposure to certain chemicals in the workplace (e.g., asbestos, chromium, soot or tar)
- Exposure to radiation
- Air pollution
- A family history of lung cancer
In the early stages of lung cancer, you may not experience any signs or symptoms of the disease. However, as it progresses, the most common symptoms include:
- A cough that doesn’t go away or gets worse
- Blood in mucus that is coughed up
- Chest pain that gets worse with deep breathing
- Trouble breathing
- Trouble swallowing
- Weight loss
How common is lung cancer?
In 2017, nearly 29,000 Canadians were diagnosed with lung cancer, which represented 14% of all new cancer cases that year. On average, 78 Canadians were diagnosed with lung cancer every day in 2017.
Skin melanoma is a type of cancer in which cancer cells form in skin cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes are the cells that produce melanin, which is what gives our skin, hair and eyes their colour. While melanoma starts on the skin, it can spread into other tissues and parts of the body.
Some people are more likely to develop skin cancer than others. Risk factors that can increase your chances of developing it include:
- Having a fair complexion (i.e., fair skin with freckles, blue, green or other light-coloured eyes, red or blond hair)
- Having lots of large or small moles
- Extended exposure to natural or artificial sunlight
- Frequent sunburns that blistered, especially as a child or teenager
- A family history of skin cancer
To help you recognize the signs and symptoms of skin melanoma, there is the “ABCDE rule”.
Asymmetry: one side of the mole has a different shape than the other
Border: the edge of the mole is irregular
Colour: the mole has more than one colour
Diameter: the mole is larger than 6 mm (1/4 inch) across
Evolving: the mole has changed in size, shape, colour or feel. The mole could also be itchy, ooze, bleed or you may have a burning or tingling feeling.
How common is skin melanoma?
If you’ve been diagnosed with skin melanoma, you’re not alone. In 2017, approximately 7200 Canadians were diagnosed with skin melanoma.