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Cancer awareness: How to drive early detection and better care

cancer awareness detection and cancer care world cancer day

February 4th is World Cancer Day. On this day, awareness is raised about cancer, the causes of cancer, early detection, screening and treatments.

A three-year campaign is started in 2022 with the theme “close the care gap”.

The objective of this theme is to understand the unique challenges in dealing with cancer, have a collaborative approach involving various organizations in bringing equity in cancer care

What is Cancer?

Cancer is a disease in which some of the body's cells grow in an uncontrolled manner and spread to other parts of the body.Cancer can arise in any organ of the body. The type of cancer varies depending on its origin.

Cancer cells can form either due to inherited genetic mutations, genetic changes in adult life or due to DNA damage and instability. Cancer cells do not die; continue to grow and divide in a disorderly manner causing metastasis.

There are many causes of cancer, and many are yet to be known.

Some identified causes of cancer are:

  • Increasing age
  • Tobacco products
  • Alcohol intake
  • Obesity
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Infections (some infections like HPV (Human papilloma Virus), can cause 6 types of cancers)
  • Environmental and workplace hazards

The symptoms of cancer vary depending on the organ affected. Understanding symptoms of cancer can help in early diagnosis.

Some of the commonly found symptoms may be as follows:

  • Loss of appetite 
  • Loss of weight
  • Bleeding of the rectum, or blood in urine
  • Abnormal bleeding after attaining menopause
  • Palpable lump in breasts, thyroid region or in other parts of the body
  • Swelling of lymph glands in groin or axilla
  • Change in bowel habits 
  • A sore throat that does not heal
  • Obvious change in a wart or a mole
  • Nagging cough or hoarseness
  • Any lesion in the oral cavity, especially in smokers

Diagnosis of cancer

Early detection leads to early treatment and avoids serious consequences like distant spread. Treatment can happen with minimum inconvenience and therapeutic interventions whenever cancer is diagnosed early. Imaging & biopsy are the modalities used for diagnosing and staging cancer. Imaging techniques such as X rays – CT scan, MRI scan, PET scans and ultrasound are used to detect location of tumor and organs effected by it.Biopsy helps in looking at the abnormal tissues under microscope to detect cancer, and the type of cancer.Endoscopy is used to detect abnormalities inside the gastrointestinal tract such as esophagus, stomach etc. Biopsy of the tissue is possible during these procedures

Treatment of cancer

Treatment can include traditional treatments like surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation and newer forms like targeted therapies Knowing about the possible side effects from the treatment being given and disclosing the side effects faced with the care team would help you get the care you need to handle the side effects.Follow up visits with the cancer care specialist, as advised by them facilitates active surveillance for recurrence of cancer.People suffering from cancer can feel isolated, lonely and face financial distress. They could use all the support they could get.

What you can do as a family member or a friend

If your family member or a friend is suffering from cancer, ask them how you can support them.

Here are some of the ways you can help:

  • Accompanying them to the health center for treatments
  • Spending time with them
  • Grocery shopping
  • Cooking a meal for them
  • Babysitting their kids 
  • Screening for some cancers

Screening and prevention of cancer

Screening involves testing healthy individuals with proven tests, to identify those having cancers before any symptoms appear.

Screening recognizes cancer in the latent or preclinical phase. Screening helps to prevent death & suffering from the disease. 

Screening tests like PAP smear (to detect cervical cancer) and mammogram (to detect breast cancer) are performed in eligible populations at regular intervals as per the scientific recommendations

Some of the ways one can prevent cancer are

  • Avoid tobacco in all forms.  Secondary exposure to smoke needs to be avoided too.
  • Reduce consumption of saturated fats. Include fruits and vegetables in your diet.
  • Limit alcohol consumption.
  • Protected and safe intercourse can prevent certain cancers.
  • Maintain a healthy weight (Obesity increases the risk for colorectal, post-menopausal breast, uterine, esophageal, kidney and pancreatic cancers).
  • Physical activity helps in preventing obesity. 
  • Avoid unnecessary exposure to radiation (increases the risk of melanoma).
  • Know your family history and your risk.
  • Get the cancer screening tests recommended by your doctor.
  • HPV vaccination can prevent more than 90% of HPV cancers when given at the recommended ages. The vaccine works best when given starting at the age of 9 for adolescent girls

In closing

World Cancer Day provides an opportunity to raise awareness about this devastating disease and the need for early detection, screening, and treatment. The theme of the three-year campaign, "Close the Care Gap," highlights the importance of collaboration and equity in addressing the unique challenges of cancer. Understanding the causes of cancer, being aware of its symptoms, and taking preventive measures can help reduce the risk of developing cancer. Moreover, support from family and friends can greatly improve the lives of those who are suffering from cancer. On this World Cancer Day, let us pledge to take action, spread awareness, and work towards closing the care gap in cancer treatment.

About the author

Dr Lavanya Aribandi is the current Chief Medical Officer at ekincare. With 20+ years of experience in Internal Medicine, she is MBBS & MD certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine.

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Dr Lavanya Aribandi is the current Chief Medical Officer at ekincare. With 20+ years of experience in Internal Medicine, she is MBBS & MD certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine.