It is fast becoming a killer in Nigeria; far more deadly than the dreaded HIV /AIDS. Hardly will a week pass without hearing of someone who has lost a colleague, a family member, a friend, neighbour or a relation. So, it has become obvious that educating people about the scourge called cancer can not be too much. From this and for the next two weeks, we will be taking our readers into the scary world of cancer. Obviously, the purpose is not to create fear, but to demystify it.
It is important to note that some types of cancer do not present any symptoms until they are in advanced stages. This is why cancer screening and risk assessment are vital for cancer prevention and early detection.
Symptoms of Cancer
A broad spectrum of non-specific cancer symptoms may include:
• Persistent Fatigue: Fatigue is one of the most commonly experienced cancer symptoms. It is usually more common when the cancer is advanced, but still occurs in the early stages of some cancers. Anemia is commonly the culprit — a condition that is associated with many types of cancer, especially types affecting the bowel. Fatigue is a symptom of both malignant and non-malignant conditions and should be evaluated by a physician.
• Unintentional Weight Loss: While it may be a welcome surprise to lose weight without trying, it can be a red flag for many illnesses, including cancer. Losing 10 pounds or more unintentionally definitely warrants a visit to the doctor. This type of weight loss can occur with or without loss of appetite. Remember, weight loss can be a symptom of cancer, but is also a symptom of many other illnesses, too.
• Pain: Typically, pain is not an early symptom of cancer, except in some cancer types like those that spread to the bone. Pain generally occurs when cancer spreads and begins to affect other organs and nerves.
Lower pack pain is cancer symptom that is associated with ovarian cancer and colon cancer. Shoulder pain can also be a symptom of lung cancer. Pain in the form of headaches can be associated with brain tumours (malignant and benign).
Stomach pains can be related to types of cancer, like stomach cancer, pancreatic cancer, and many others. Stomach pain can be a very vague symptom because so many illnesses can cause stomach pain.
• Fever: A fever is a very non-specific symptom of many mild to severe conditions, including cancer. In relation to cancer, a fever that is persistent or one that comes and goes frequently can signal stress on the immune system. Fevers are commonly associated with types of cancer that affects the blood, like leukaemia and lymphoma, but are also common in people whose cancer has spread.
• Bowel Changes: If you experience constipation, diarrhoea, blood in the stools, gas, thinner stools, or just a general overall change in bowel habits, see your doctor. These symptoms are most commonly associated with colon cancer, but are also related to other cancer types.
• Chronic Cough: A persistent, new cough or a cough that won’t go away or becomes worse needs to be evaluated by a doctor. Blood and/or mucus may accompany the cough and can be caused many conditions. In relation to cancer, a chronic cough with blood or mucus can be symptom of lung cancer.
Keep in mind that these are very general, vague symptoms of cancer. If you have one or two of these symptoms, it is not a red flag for cancer but more an indication to your doctor to run certain medical tests. The symptoms listed above are experienced by most people with cancer at various stages of their disease, but are also linked to many other non-cancerous conditions. For more specific cancer symptoms, see below for symptom information about several types of cancer.
It’s Preventable, Yes, It Is
Do You Know That Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Help To Prevent Cancer?
Cancer prevention is easier than you think. With a few simple lifestyle changes, you can drastically reduce your risk of many types of cancer. Many factors play a role in cancer development, but the good news is that most can be avoided.
Avoid Smoking and Exposure to Smoke
Smoking is the most significant cancer risk factor that we can reduce. It is responsible for not only lung cancer, but many other types of cancer. One of the best ways to prevent cancer is to quit smoking or never start. As soon as you quit, and it’s never too late, your body reaps the benefits of being tobacco-free.
Avoiding second-hand smoke is also a way to prevent cancer. Second-hand smoke is the smoke exhaled from a smoker or a lit cigarette, pipe or cigar. This smoke contains more than 60 known carcinogens". These carcinogens interrupt normal cell development. This interference is what ignites cancer development.
Eat Your Fruits and Vegeyables
A well-balanced diet is advantageous for many reasons. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables greatly reduces your risk of developing cancer and many other conditions.
Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, which help repair our damaged cells. Green, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables are your best bet to help prevent cancer. Studies also show that dark fruits, like blueberries and grapes, may also have anti-cancer properties.
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower appear to pack a powerful punch at preventing cancer, according to numerous studies
Limit Red Meat and Animal Fat
Numerous studies show that a diet high in animal fat increases the risk for several types of cancer, particularly colon cancer. Red meat contains much more fat than poultry and fish, so reducing the amount of red meat in your diet may help to prevent cancer. A diet high in fat also is major cause of obesity, which is a risk factor for many types of cancer.
Limit Your Alcohol Intake
Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol regularly increases your risk factor for many types of cancer. Studies suggest that men who consume 2 alcoholic drinks per day and women who have 1 alcoholic drink per day significantly increase their risk factors for certain types of cancer.
Exercise for Cancer Prevention
Did you know that when you are exercise, you are reducing your risk for many types of cancer? The American Cancer Society recommends exercising 30 or minutes, at least 5 days a week for cancer prevention. Exercising doesn’t have to mean going to the gym to lift weights. There are plenty of ways to get exercise into your day
Know Your Personal and Family Medical History
Knowing your family history of cancer is important to properly assess your risk factor for certain types of cancer. We know that cancers like breast, colon, ovarian, and possibly other types can be hereditary.
If you know that a certain type of cancer runs in your family, let your doctor know. Together, you can determine a proper screening plan and assess your true risk. Genetic testing and counseling is available and may be recommended based on your family’s medical history.
Know What You’re Being Exposed to in Your Work Environment
Chemicals in the workplace may increase your risk of developing many types of cancer, including kidney cancer and bladder cancer. If you are exposed to fumes, dust, chemicals, etc. in the workplace, you have a legal right to know what you are being exposed to. Gasoline, diesel exhaust, arsenic, beryllium, vinyl chloride, nickel chromates, coal products, mustard gas, and chloromethyl ethers are all carcinogens and can be found in some work environments. Talk to your employer about limiting exposure.
Practice Safe Sex
You may wonder what sex has to do with cancer. Unsafe sex can result in the infection of the human papillomairus (HPV), a known cause for cervical cancer and a risk factor for many other types of cancer. HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection that is spread through sexual, skin-to-skin contact. HIV/AIDS is also associated with some types of cancers.
Get Screened for Cancer Regularly
Cancer screening tests can be useful not only in detecting cancer, but also helping prevent it. Screening tests like the colonoscopy and Pap smear can detect abnormal cellular changes before they turn cancerous. The key to their effectiveness, however, is that they are done regularly.