Learning that you or someone you know has cancer can be a frightening experience. Although cancer is often a serious condition, patients are by no means without options. Some cancers are terrifying and life-threatening, while others are fairly benign. Here are six criteria of cancer seriousness to help you decide whether you should be worried when a cancer diagnosis comes in.


Not all cancers are equal. There are over 100 types of cancer, but some are more worrisome than others. Growths such as polyps, fibromas and even some moles are tumours that are not considered cancerous because they are not life-threatening. On the other hand, malignant tumours invade organs and prevent the body from functioning properly, which makes it necessary to remove or otherwise treat them.


Nearly everyone is susceptible to small tumours at some point in life, but most of these are detected by the immune system and naturally cured before they are detected. Cancerous growths become concerning when they are larger around than a pencil. It usually isn’t hard to note the size of growth if it is on the skin or in a prominent location, but scans and tests are used to reveal the size of tumours inside the body and help to determine if they are urgent or not.


Most cancers are named based on where they form in the body. Cancer can be found in pretty much any part of the body, including the blood system, the lymph system, the hormone system, bones, organs, muscles, skin and other parts of the body. Tumours tend to be more serious when they form on organs such as the brain, bladder, colon and lungs, but any cancer that prevents the body from functioning requires medical attention. Treatment types might vary depending on how easy it is to reach the tumour. For example, chemotherapy treatment is often used for widespread or difficult cancer, but surgery is a good option for more obvious locations like the skin. 


Cancer can have many symptoms. Difficulty breathing, eating or eliminating waste are always symptoms that indicate treatment is necessary sooner rather than later, but pain, swelling, weight loss, fatigue, inability to heal from injuries, and unusual bleeding are all worth asking your doctor about. Depending on how disruptive these symptoms are and how cancer affects other parts of the body, treatment might be deemed more or less critical. 

Growth Rate

Although tumours are common, not all are dangerous. While most of the concern about tumours comes from the location and effects, doctors also rate growths by how fast they grow. A tumour the size of a pinprick often can’t do much serious damage and would be difficult to remove anyway. However, if the growth noticeably increases in size within a few months, there is a higher chance it will become an obstruction, and it’s a good idea to seek treatment before it becomes a bigger problem.


One other consideration for the seriousness of cancer is how much it spreads. Even a small tumour in the wrong place can be dangerous, and many small tumours in places like the lungs, colon, kidneys and other key body systems can be life-threatening. Cancers that form in fluids, such as the blood or lymph systems, are more likely to spread than others, making early detection and prevention critical.

No matter the kind of cancer, there are treatment options available, whether to prevent cancer entirely or to help alleviate the symptoms. Even minor cancers should receive attention, but many are not urgent enough to warrant much stress.