Demystifying Cancer Detection and Treatment
On a global scale, by 2030 there will be 21.7 million new cases of cancer and 13 million cancer-related deaths. This health burden is likely to increase if we fail to make the necessary changes: Preventive measures like avoiding various lifestyle choices (smoking and alcohol, for example) and environmental risk factors may reduce the incidence of cancer. As we age we have an even higher risk of developing cancer, although cancer is not limited to a particular age it could also be inherited.
By Jude Chukwuka
In many cases, the earlier cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better a person’s chance for a full recovery. If you develop cancer, you can improve the chance that it will be detected early if you have regular medical checkups and do certain self-exams. Often a doctor can find early cancer during a physical exam or with routine tests, even if a person has no symptoms.
Ask your doctor about your cancer risk, problems to watch for, and a schedule of regular checkups. The doctor’s advice will be based on your age, medical history, family history, and other risk factors. The doctor also can help you learn about self-exams.
Detection of various Cancer
Skin cancer – The doctor should examine your skin during regular checkups for signs of skin cancer. You should also check regularly for new growths, sores that do not heal changes in the size, shape, or color of any moles, or any other changes on the skin. Warning signs like these should be reported to the doctor right away.
Colon and Rectum – Beginning at age 50, you should have a yearly fecal occult blood test. This test is a check for hidden (occult) blood in the stool. This test is done because cancer of the colon and rectum can cause bleeding. However, noncancerous conditions can also cause bleeding, so having blood in the stool does not necessarily mean a person has cancer. If blood is found, the doctor orders more tests to help make a diagnosis.
To check for cancer of the rectum, the doctor inserts a gloved finger into the rectum and feels for any bumps or abnormal areas. A digital rectal exam should be done during regular checkups.
After age 50, you should have either a flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years, or a colonoscopy every 10 years. In this exam, the doctor uses a thin, flexible tube with a light to look inside the rectum and colon for abnormal areas.
Mouth cancer – Your doctor and dentist should examine your mouth at regular visits. Also, by looking in a mirror, you can check inside your mouth for changes in the color of the lips, gums, tongue, or inner cheeks, and for scabs, cracks, sores, white patches, swelling, or bleeding. It is often possible to see or feel changes in the mouth that might be cancer or a condition that might lead to cancer. Any symptoms in your mouth should be checked by a doctor or dentist. Oral exams are especially important for people who use alcohol or tobacco products and for anyone over age 50.
Prostate cancer – Men over age 40 should have a yearly digital rectal exam to check the prostate gland for hard or lumpy areas. The doctor feels the prostate through the wall of the rectum.
Testicular cancer – Testicular cancer occurs most often between ages 15 and 34. Most of these cancers are found by men themselves, often by doing a testicular self-exam. If you find a lump or notice another change, such as heaviness, swelling, unusual tenderness, or pain, you should see your doctor for proper examination. Also, the doctor should examine the testicles as part of regular medical checkups.
Breast cancer– When breast cancer is found early, a woman has more treatment choices and a good chance of complete recovery. It is, therefore, important that breast cancer be detected as early as possible. It is very important for women to take an active part in their breast cancer screening to facilitate early detection. They should talk to their doctor about this disease, the symptoms to watch for, proper self-examination technique and an appropriate schedule of checkups. Women should ask their doctor about:
- Mammograms (x-rays of the breast);
- Breast exams by a doctor or nurse; and
- Breast self-examination (BSE)
A mammogram can often show tumors or changes in the breast before they can be felt or cause symptoms. However, we know mammograms cannot find every abnormal area in the breast. This is especially true in the breasts of young women below the age of 40. Another important step in early detection is for women to have their breasts examined regularly by a doctor or a nurse.
Between visits to the doctor, women should examine their breasts every month. The best time to do BSE is between 3 to 5 days after the beginning of the menstrual flow for menstruating women and for women in menopause; they can choice a particular day in the month to always do their breast self-exam. By doing BSE, women learn what looks and feels normal for their breasts, and they are more likely to find a change. Any changes should be reported to the doctor. Most breast lumps are not cancer, but only a doctor can make a diagnosis.
Cervical cancer – Regular pelvic exams and Pap tests are important to detect early cancer of the cervix. In a pelvic exam, the doctor feels the uterus, vagina, ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder, and rectum for any change in size or shape.
For the Pap test, a sample of cells is collected from the upper vagina and cervix with a small brush or a flat wooden stick. The sample is placed in a glass slide and checked under a microscope for cancer or other abnormal cells.
Women should start having a Pap test every year after they turn 18 or become sexually active. If the results are normal for 3 or more years in a row, a woman may have this test less often, based on her doctor’s advice.
General Symptoms of cancer
You should see your doctor for regular checkups and not wait for symptoms to occur. But you should also know that the following symptoms may be associated with cancer: changes in bowel or bladder habits, a sore that does not heal, unusual bleeding or discharge, thickening or lump in the breast or any other part of the body, indigestion or difficulty swallowing, obvious change in a wart or mole, or nagging cough or hoarseness of voice. These symptoms are not always a sign of cancer. They can also be caused by less serious conditions. Only a doctor can make a diagnosis. It is important to see a doctor if you have any of these symptoms. Don’t wait to feel pain. Early cancer usually does not cause pain.
Cancer may not cause any symptoms. This is why you should have screening tests done to find them early. Great effort and expenditure in research have been implemented in finding cures for cancer but it is multifaceted and extremely complex in nature with various strains. Thus rather than placing large focus on curing cancer, worldwide scientists have invested in preventive medicine, as well as trying to better understand its pathology. In most cases, we can significantly lower the rate of cancer incidence by controlling the risk factors and minimizing their effect, as well as undergoing screening and detecting cancer in its early stages.
Contributor: Dr Okoye Jude Chukwuka
For More Juicy Stories, Get your copy of GENESIS INTERNATIONAL MAGAZINE, (Issue 9). Available with the vendors, and online on jumia.com.ng, konga.com. Available also internationally in the USA in all Barnes & Nobles Stores, Chapters booksellers in Canada and isubscribe.com in UK.