Most people believe that cancer means death. But what many of us are unware of is the fact that certain cancers can be cured, if detected in the early stages.
So why do so many people succumb to the disease in our country? “The answer is late detection. Chances of possible cure and survival come down drastically as the cancer advances. India has a long way to go in terms of cancer awareness and early detection”, say leading Oncologists.
According to the National Cancer Registry Programme of the Indian Council of Medical Research, 80% of people with cancer in India seek medical attention only in the advanced stages, which is why treatments don’t work in around 68% of the cases. Experts say that people need to get over the fear of cancer and understand the need for early detection to prevent and manage the disease effectively.
What is early detection of cancer and how is it done?
Early detection is identifying cancer/ malignant cells before the symptoms appear and the growth spreads.
Cancer can be detected very early through cancer screening tests even before symptoms like lumps, pain etc. start showing. For example, a mammogram can detect breast cancer up to two years before the lump can be felt.
Early detection is extremely important as it makes the treatment easier and less intensive. By the time symptoms start showing, the cancer may have begun to spread to other parts of the body and become harder to manage.
What is cancer screening?
Screening means checking the body for cancer before symptoms appear, with the help of pathological tests and radiological investigations. Screening is done in healthy individuals, especially those above the age of 40 or at possible risk due to family history. Cancer screening should always as per the advice of a medical professional.
Common Cancer Screening Tests
Screening for breast cancer in women above 40 with the help of mammogram. Doctors also urge women to do self-examination of the breasts to ensure there are no lumps, secretions or abnormalities.
Self Examination Of Breasts
Keep shoulders straight and arms on your hips. Look at your breasts closely to ensure that: If you notice any of the following signs, seek immediate medical help:
- There’s no change in size, shape and colour
- Should be evenly shaped without any swelling or visible distortion
If you notice any of the following signs, seek immediate medical help:
- Dimpling, puckering, or bulging of the skin
- A nipple that has changed position / inverted nipple
- Redness, rash, soreness or swelling
- Raise your arms and look for the same changes / signs
- Check for any signs of watery, milky, yellow or blood-stained secretions from the nipples.
- Feel your breasts while lying down - use your right hand to feel your left breast and then left hand to feel your right breast. Keep your fingers flat and together and use smooth, circular motion.
- Check both the breasts, from top to bottom, side to side, from above the collarbone to the top of the abdomen and armpit to cleavage.
- Start at the nipple and move out to the outer edge of the breast.
- Make sure that you feel all the tissue from the front to the back of your breasts.
- Use light pressure for the skin and tissue just beneath; medium pressure for tissue in the middle of your breasts and firm pressure for the deep tissue in the back. When you’ve reached the deep tissue, you should be able to feel the ribcage.
- Finally, feel your breasts while you are standing or sitting.
- Many women find it convenient to do the check while in the shower, as the skin is easier to feel.
- Make sure that you cover the entire breast, using the same hand movements described in step 4.
Colon, rectal cancer & polyps screening is recommended for men and women above 50, especially for those who have a family history of colon cancer.
Cervical cancer screening is recommended for women above 25 years. The investigations include PAP smear and HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) test, which will be recommended by the doctor according to the age group and previous medical history. Women who have been vaccinated against HPV should also follow the screening recommendations for their age group. However, a woman who has had her uterus and cervix removed (total hysterectomy) for reasons not related to cervical cancer and has no history of cervical cancer should not be tested.
Endometrial or uterine cancer screening is usually done as per the advice of a doctor, especially in women who have had an unexpected episode(s) of bleeding post menopause.
Prostate cancer screening is recommended in men above the age of 45. The screening is mandatory of the person has prostate enlargement or family history of prostate cancer.
Lung cancer screening is done in habitual chain smokers, if recommended by the doctor.
Remember, early detection can make cancer management much easier than in advanced stages. Never let fear of cancer prevent early diagnosis and possible cure. And yes, you can prevent many cancers by adopting a healthy lifestyle.