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Early detection of cancer
There are two major components of early detection of cancer: Education to promote early diagnosis and screening.
Recognizing possible warning signs of cancer and taking prompt action leads to early diagnosis. Increased awareness of possible warning signs of cancer, among physicians, nurses and other health care providers as well as among the general public, can have a great impact on the disease. Some early signs of cancer include lumps, sores that fail to heal, abnormal bleeding, persistent indigestion, and chronic hoarseness. Early diagnosis is particularly relevant for cancers of the breast, cervix, mouth, larynx, colon and rectum, and skin.
Screening refers to the use of simple tests across a healthy population in order to identify individuals who have disease, but do not yet have symptoms. Examples include breast cancer screening using mammography and cervical cancer screening using cytology screening methods, including Pap smears. Screening programmes should be undertaken only when their effectiveness has been demonstrated, when resources (personnel, equipment, etc.) are sufficient to cover nearly all of the target group, when facilities exist for confirming diagnoses and for treatment and follow-up of those with abnormal results, and when prevalence of the disease is high enough to justify the effort and costs of screening.
Based on the existing evidence, mass population screening can be advocated only for breast and cervical cancer, using mammography screening and cytology screening, in countries where resources are available for wide coverage of the population. Several ongoings studies are currently evaluating low cost approaches to screening that can be implemented and sustained in low-resource settings. For example visual inspection with acetic acid may prove to be an effective screening method for cervical cancer in the near future. More studies that evaluate low cost alternative methods to mammography screening, such as clinical breast examination, are needed.
Detecting Cancers at an Early Stage
Tell your health care provider about the chemicals you use at work or at home. With this information, your health care provider can perform appropriate medical screening tests for early detection of cancer.
Ask your physician if increased cancer risks are associated with your family or personal medical history or medical drugs you are taking. He or she may advise appropriate screening procedures.
Get a screening test regularly for these cancers:
Breast: A mammogram, an X-ray of the breast, is the best method of finding breast cancer before symptoms appear. Several organizations recommend mammography screening every 1 to 2 years after age 40. Women at higher than average risk of breast cancer should seek expert advice about screening before age 40 and about the frequency of screening.
Cervix: The Pap test or Pap smear is the most successful screening tool used to screen for cancer of the cervix. Cells are collected from the cervix and examined under a microscope to detect cancer or changes that may lead to cancer. Many doctors recommend yearly Pap tests. Less frequent screening is recommended by some organizations for women with at least three consecutive negative exams.
Colon and Rectum: A number of screening tests are used to find colon and rectal cancer. If a person has a family medical history of colorectal cancer or is over the age of 50, a doctor may suggest one or more of these tests:
- The fecal occult blood test checks for small amounts of blood in the stool;
- A sigmoidoscopy is the use of a lighted tube to examine the rectum and lower colon;
- A colonoscopy is performed to see the entire colon and rectum.
- With either a sigmoidoscopy or a colonoscopy, abnormal tissue can be removed and examined under a microscope.
Be alert for changes in your body.
Cancer may cause a variety of symptoms. Here are some:
- Thickening or lump in any part of body,
- Obvious change in a wart or mole,
- A sore that does not heal,
- Nagging cough or hoarseness,
- Changes in bowel or bladder habits,
- Indigestion or difficulty swallowing,
- Unexplained changes in weight, and
- Unusual bleeding or discharge
Cancer DOES NOT always cause these symptoms. It is important to see a doctor about these or other physical changes that continue for some time. Because certain cancers have no obvious symptoms, routine physical exams are recommended.
Stay informed and be proactive.
Ask your doctor questions.
If you suspect that you are exposed to a carcinogen in your work or home environment, try to find out more. Use the resources at the end of the training to contact the agencies responsible for protecting the environment.
Get involved in activities aimed at reducing our exposure to cancer-causing substances. Government agencies, industries, health professionals, and individuals can all contribute to reducing the risks in the environment. For example, to control the obesity epidemic, efforts to increase physical activity and promote healthy eating are needed in many parts of society, including families, schools, day care centers, food companies, restaurants, work sites, health care systems, and departments of transportation and city-planning.
Dr. NS Rajesh Kumar, BHMS, CFN MSc (DFSM)
Homeopathic medical officer in Holistic Medicine & Stress Research Institute, Medical College, Trivandrum.
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