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August 23, 2021 Monday 12:14:36 PM IST

Cancer: Benefits of Early Diagnosis

Health Monitor

Cancer is a term which drives fear into our hearts and is often considered synonymous with death. Why do we fear cancer so much? The primary reason behind the fear is probably the lack of proper awareness about the disease, its treatment options and preventive measures. Although medical science has progressed by leaps and bounds, our knowledge about cancer is vastly incomplete. The misconceptions surrounding it  fuelled by our own ignorance has become deep rooted in society, even among the very educated.

With the advent of state of the art imaging and immune-histopathology, we are getting faster and more accurate diagnosis as compared to a decade back. Once diagnosed and staged, cancer management is best carried out by a multidisciplinary team in a specialised centre. Early diagnosis and treatment is the key to improving the outcome of cancer treatment

Most cancers which present early or are detected by screening are fully cured usually by a single modality of treatment and without much morbidity. Even with all the new and exciting therapeutic tools, the sad fact is that many patients still present late due to a multitude of reasons.


We know that prevention is better than cure; the age old saying cannot be overemphasised in a setting like cancer. To maintain a healthy life style is probably the way to start. A healthy life style should include a balanced diet which includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, less of red meat and deep fried or smoked/ processed food and plenty of water. Avoiding tobacco and alcohol is probably the single most important step. Physical activity for at least an hour a day (Which could either be a brisk walk, swimming, cycling or jogging) is an equally important component of a healthy lifestyle.


Screening for cancer is the only way to diagnose the disease early and probably improve cure rates. Screening refers to the volunteered medical examinations done on asymptomatic individuals in the absence of any symptoms of disease; so basically screening takes place in healthy individuals. The usual screening recommendations are as follows (guidelines from different countries differ on the age to start screening and the frequency).

Breast Cancer: It is the most common cancer among women world over. In the west, screening has resulted in dramatic improvement in Breast cancer survival statistics. The gold standard screening tool for breast cancer is Mammography. This is a low dose Xray of the Breasts and is recommended in women between the ages of 50 to 74 (40 years as per some guidelines) yearly or at least once in 2 years. 

Colorectal Cancer: Colonoscopy & stool occult blood tests are screening tools which have shown to reduce deaths from colorectal cancer. These also help prevent colorectal cancer because they can detect abnormal colon growths (polyps) that can be removed before they develop into cancer. Expert groups recommend screening at ages 50 through 75 once in every 10 years. 

Lung cancer: It is the leading cause of cancer related death in both men and women. Low-dose computed tomography(LDCT) is the screening tool recommended and the target population is men and women above the age of 55 who have a significant smoking history or have quit smoking within the past 15 years. This test has been shown to reduce lung cancer deaths among this population. 

Cervical Cancer: It is one of the most common gynaecological cancers in women especially in the developing world and the resulting socioeconomic burden on healthcare is usually huge. The standard screening test in use is the Pap smear and human papillomavirus (HPV) testing. These tests reduce the incidence of cervical cancer because they allow abnormal cells to be identified and treated before they become cancer. They also reduce deaths from cervical cancer. Testing is generally recommended to begin at age 25 and to end at age 65, as long as recent results have been normal. 

Cancer Myths

We live in an era of ‘The social media’. Our lives have been transformed by it and access to information is easier than ever. But with all its utilities, the misuse of the social media can be a menace. Lots of misconceptions about cancer have spread like wild fire and have become imprinted in the minds of people.Here are some of the common 

1) Not all cancers are inherited from a family member and transmitted to the next generation. Less than 10% of cancers are hereditary and run in families. 

2) Contrary to what many believe, there’s no food supplement which has been scientifically proven to cure or prevent cancer. Many blindly follow food fads propagated on social media in the hope of preventing/treating cancer and this delays seeking proper medical care.

3)Cancer cannot spread from person to person. It is very important that your loved one being treated for cancer receivesproper care and love

4)Hairfall, vomiting and fever are not universal side effects of all chemotherapy. Majority of chemotherapy side effects are now manageable with the improvements in supportive care and should not be a deterrent to taking curative chemotherapy

5)Alternative streams of medicine have been widely publicised and promise cure even in advanced cancers. These treatment modalities have not been put through any scientific studies and are not evidence based. The number of people seeking care in these systems is still huge and is one of the most common causes of delay in seeking proper care and thus significantly impacting cancer survival.

Hence it would be wise to confirm the authenticity of the source of a piece of information before it is propagated. 

Although we are yet to uncover a lot about the genesis and progression of cancer, we can certainly prevent many cancers by adopting a healthy life style as mentioned above and getting screening tests as recommended. The statement from Martina Navratilova, legendary tennis star from yesteryears, sums it all up “It is not just about eating right and exercising, regular screening is as important. Having my Mammogram saved my life.” 

Pallikkutam e-magazine in English by Rajagiri Media Trust (readwhere.com)

Dr Arun Philip

Dr Arun Philip, MD, DM, DNB , Medical Oncologist, Rajagiri Hospital

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