What is Cancer?

Click here to view the new Hawaii State Cancer Plan, 2016-2020

Cancer is a large group of diseases characterized by uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells.  It is the second leading cause of death in Hawaii.  Every year, more than 6,700 Hawaii residents are diagnosed with an invasive form of cancer, and more than 2,200 die from the disease.  Hawaii’s cancer treatment spending costs reaches upward of $678 million annually.

In Hawaii, the five most commonly diagnosed cancers in men are prostate, lung, colorectal, bladder, and melanoma.  In women, they are breast, colorectal, lung, uterine, and thyroid.  Some population groups have higher rates of cancer than others.  For example, Native Hawaiian women have higher rates of breast cancer than other population groups.  Native Hawaiian men are more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer at a later stage in the disease’s development.


There are more than 100 types of cancers, and symptoms can vary depending upon the location of the cancer, its size, and its impact upon the organ or tissue.  A metastatic cancer may present diffusely, with signs and symptoms in many parts of the body.  A cancer may begin producing signs and symptoms even at an early stage, or may be undetected until it is quite large and pushing on organs and nerves.  Some cancers, unfortunately, aren’t detected until they have already spread.

When cancers do cause symptoms, they are often non-specific.  For example, cancers may cause fever, tiredness, or loss of weight.  These symptoms may be difficult to narrow down.  The best way to prevent cancer is through routine screening.  Screening increases the likelihood of early detection and may catch cancers that haven’t become symptomatic or begun to spread, thereby increasing the rates of successful treatment.