Spot that Cancer early on

Self detection holds the key to nailing cancer at the earliest. Survivors tell you how they did it and saved their lives. | Mail Today

NO ONE knows your body like the way you do is the belief that helped Delhi based homemaker Prasanna Menon save her life. It was during a regular self examination routine that she discovered a small lump in her left breast. It was small but she did not treat it as insignificant. She did deal with the mental tussle of whether she should see a doctor or just take it easy though. “I was sure that I would get away with it in a few days. I tried to tell myself that it can’t be anything serious,” she admits.

However, she couldn’t put her mind at peace. So, to put an end to all her doubts and hesitation she decided to see her doctor who advised her to get a mammogram done. And when the result declared that she had breast cancer, she was shocked yet couldn’t thank her instincts enough. An early detection through self examination saved Menon’s life. But like her, not every one of us follows a dedicated self examination routine or understands the significance of symptoms however small they may be.

KNOW YOUR BODY

“EVERY individual experience changes as he or she grows with age, from toddler to active adult. You are the most familiar with these changes and phases of your body. But, the problem lies within each one of us as we neglect these changes and often ignore them, especially when it plays a crucial role in saving our life,” says Dr Ramesh Dawar, an oncologist at Dharamshila Hospital. Dr Dawar’s words hold a strong resonance in certain types of cancers, which do give out early signs of the disease. The significance can be observed from the fact that a vast majority of testicular tumours are discovered by men themselves, either by accident or by performing the self-examination procedure.

“A research report found that only 4 per cent of all testicular tumours are discovered by physicians, usually when they are performing an exam for other reasons. Undoubtedly regular self-examination is crucial,” claims Dr. Urvashi P Jha, gynaecologist, Fortis. From a lump in the breast to an ulcer in the mouth or a painless but growing mole on the skin, all it requires is a keen eye to figure out that everything is not well with your body.

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Thu 19 Apr, 2012 12:30 PM IST
IGNORANCE IS NO BLISS
UNFORTUNATELY, most of us have a ‘taken for granted’ attitude towards our bodies and stay oblivious to any peculiar change that occurs in the body, which might be a potent symptom of cancer. Since we look and feel fine, a majority of us think that going for a medical examination for a minor ulcer or a lump would be an unnecessary fuss about nothing. We expect and wait for the affected area to heal by itself. And there are a few of us who live under the delusion that we are too young to have a chronic disease like cancer. We all stay good in our ignorance. “If you thought, it’s only the women and men from tier II and tier III cities or rural areas who due to lack of education and information don’t pay any heed to these warning signs then you may need to think again. A large number of people from metropolitan cities do the same. I see so many patients who even after feeling that lump or mole ignored it deliberately,” informs Dr Dawar.

Moreover, experts say that more women than men neglect worrisome symptoms. Explains Dr Dawar, “Breast and cervical cancer are the two major cancers that claim lives of thousands of women across the country every year. Women get so busy with their families and work that they hardly give a look to symptoms. As far self examination is concerned, culturally it is not done. Women still avoid talking about it.” Also, since cancer cells are not painful in nature, people do not see painless symptoms as anything serious to worry about. For instance, testicular cancer mostly occurs in men between the age group of 15 to 40 years and since it is painless, many easily ignore it. According to Dr Vedant Kabra, senior cancer surgeon at Max Cancer Centre, a good number of cancer patients still come to the doctor at stage three or four.

DON’T FEAR CANCER
THE denial mode is common trait when it comes to cancer. As Menon admits that initially, it was hard for her to acknowledge the lump as the symptom of breast cancer. Most of us simply refuse to accept the fact that the symptoms can be cancerous and we might be suffering from the disease. It may sound amusing but the daunting fear of cancer as an incurable disease is also responsible for people’s ‘laid-back’ attitude towards the symptoms of the disease. Agreeing to it Dr Kabra says, “The fear of cancer stops people from seeing a doctor. They postpone things instead of getting diagnosed.” Further adds Dr Jha, “It is generally thought that this will not happen to me. Many people tend to ignore the early symptoms of cancer when it is curable by less invasive treatment.

They end up coming to the hospital when the disease has reached an advanced stage, making the recovery chances slim. At the later stages, only palliative care is given as complete cure is difficult.” Despite the screaming symptoms, new screening programs and successful treatment, many forget that gone are the days when cancer used to be a death call. “Today cancer can be diagnosed and cured like any other disease. Instead of putting an end to our doubts and identifying the disease at the first stage, we sit quiet on it.

Interestingly, nine out of ten lumps are not actually cancerous but you cannot decide it on your own. You have to see a doctor and get a screening done,” adheres Dr Dawar.

TIME IS CRUCIAL
THE fact that one has more chances of survival in cancer is the biggest advantage of not ignoring symptoms and self examination. “Early detection in cancer is more significant than any other disease, as the late diagnosis can sometime result in loss of life,” states Dr Kabra. He further adds that early treatment also gives one a three-fold advantage - less number of treatments, less complicated procedures and less expensive treatments, which in turn leads to fewer long term effects. For instance, an oral cancer in the first stage can be treated with a small surgery of one hour or even less, whereas in the later stages the surgery can be more critical going up to seven to eight hours. “In case of cervical cancer early diagnosis and treatment in form of surgery along with radio and chemotherapy has cure rate of 80 per cent in stage1, 60 per cent in stage3 and less than 30% in later stages,” informs Dr Jha.

“The loss of time due to late diagnosis can’t be reversed and will only make things worse,” declares Dr Kabra. The importance of warning symptoms cannot be overlooked. “We don’t intend to create a panic among people by saying that symptoms can be an indication to a potent cancer, but it is always advisable to leave the judgments on the doctor. Late diagnosis is the biggest obstacle in curing cancer. Self examination plays a vital role here. The more you do it, the better you are at it,” says Dr Dawar. We may be fit and healthy, but cancer does come uninvited and only an alert mind and keen eye can help you pin down the disease at an early stage, where it is more curable. You need to feel your body, just as Prasanna Menon did. “I touched, I felt and I lived,” she smiles.

FREE APP FOR SELF EXAMINATION

HERE is a free iPhone app that can help you speck the early signs of skin cancer in just few minutes. Developed at the University of Michigan Health System, it guides users through a series of 23 photos, covering the body from head to toe. If any suspicious moles or other skin lesions are spotted, the app can walk users through a self exam by providing pictures of various kinds of skin cancers for comparisons. Called UMSkinCheck, it even sends automatic reminders so users can monitor changes to a skin lesion over time. All the photos are stored within the app and serve as a baseline for future comparisons. In case a mole appears to be changing or growing, the photos can then be shared with a dermatologist to help determine whether a biopsy is necessary.

Reproduced From Mail Today. Copyright 2012. MTNPL. All rights reserved.