Know the signs and symptoms of cancer

What is cancer

“Cancer is a group of diseases characterised by the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells.”

Cancer can broadly be classified as: Solid organ tumors, for example cancer of the breast, the lung and colon or cancers of the blood, lymph nodes (hematological cancers) which includes leukemia, myeloma, and lymphoma.

What are my chances of getting cancer?

The number of new cases of cancer diagnosed each year in South Africa is estimated to be 202 per every 100 000 people in our country. The estimated new cases for South Africa of all kinds of cancers for 2020 was estimated at 116 391 with breast, prostate, colon, cervical and lung cancer responsible for 51% of all cancers diagnosed. This number of new cases are increasing every year mainly due to two factors namely our population living longer and getting older and general lifestyle issues & urbanisation.

The number of people who are managed and living with cancer at any given time is about double that of the new cases.

The challenge in South Africa is to create a greater awareness of cancer and understand the warning signs that may be caused by cancer. The earlier cancer is diagnosed by your doctor the better the result of treatment.

Health Counseling 

If you take responsibility for your own health, you need to consider the following lifestyle issues as relevant in the prevention of cancer:

Cigarette smoking (Tobacco use) that can cause not only lung cancer but has proven to increase chances for other cancers.
Excessive sun exposure which can cause skin cancer including malignant melanoma.
Unprotected sexual relationships with multiple partners.
Environmental and occupational hazards and practices.

Lifestyle issues than can have a preventative effect on cancer includes:

A healthy diet with lots of salads, fruits and vegetables and reduced in fat.
Maintaining a lean body with normal weight or BMI – obesity is a risk factor.
Regular exercise.
Moderate alcohol consumption.

When must I suspect cancer?

When you develop any of the symptoms as listed below, see you doctor immediately. Cancer may not necessarily be the reason for the symptom, but you need to take note and not ignore:

General

Unexplained weight loss or muscle wasting.
Fever and sweating where the origin cannot be determined especially at nighttime.
Paleness and weakness due to undetected loss of blood.
Yellow jaundice.
Unexplained generalised itching.
Any abnormal bleeding – coughing up blood, blood in your stools. Blood in your urine.

Skin

Be on the lookout for moles with an uneven color, irregular edges or breaking down (ulceration) on the surface that change in size and seems to be growing bigger.
Any ulceration or sores that fail to heal or grow rapidly.

Lungs

Any new persistent irritative cough or shortness of breath – especially in a smoker.
Coughing up blood.

Stomach and intestines

Any new onset of difficulty or pain with swallowing.
Any bleeding from the rectum when passing stools.
Recent onset of constipation or change in bowel habit.
Persistent

Breast

Skin dimpling.
Lump – no matter how ‘benign’ it may feel.
Nipple: any new inversion or discharge both serous and bloody.

Brain

Recurrent nocturnal or early morning headaches.
Blurred vision.
Recent onset of seizures.
Any Neurological deficit.

 Gynecological

Vaginal bleeding especially post-menopausal.
Any pain or lump around the pelvis.
Change in bowel habit or bladder function.
Persistent or recurrent discharge.

Others

Lesions on the lips or in the mouth or tongue that fail to heal.
Blood in the urine.
Any new and unexplained lumps or swollen lymph nodes that do not go away after a course of antibiotics.

Cancer in Children

Cancer in children is relatively uncommon with only about 2 percent of all cancers in Western industrialised nations occurring in children.  Yearly about 150 new cases for every 1 million children in the United States are diagnosed with cancer.  

Although cancer can develop in children of any age, certain cancers have a predilection for specific age groups. For example, neuroblastoma, retinoblastoma, and Wilms’ tumor most commonly occur in children between birth and four years of age, whereas osteosarcoma, Ewing’s sarcoma and Hodgkin’s disease tend to occur in children more than 10 years of age.  

The survival rate of pediatric cancers is now more than 75% in developed countries and can be viewed as one of the great success stories of modern medicine. This success can be contributed to newer innovative cancer drugs, better diagnostics and better after-care of children with cancer.  

Symptoms That May Indicate Cancer  

Because of the relative rarity of malignancies in children and the presenting signs and symptoms that are often nonspecific and may mimic those of common childhood conditions, the Family Practitioner needs to maintain a high index of suspicion.  

A quick/early diagnosis of cancer in a child greatly enhances the chance that the child will survive cancer. The Pediatric-Oncology Resource Center therefore published a list of symptoms, and mnemonic “CHILDCANCER”, of childhood cancer which should alert the doctor to keep cancer in mind when evaluating a child with any of these symptoms and signs:  

Continued, unexplained weight loss
Headaches, often with early morning vomiting
Increased swelling or persistent pain in bones, joints, back, or legs
Lump or mass, especially in the abdomen, neck, chest, pelvis, or armpits
Development of excessive bruising, bleeding, or rash
Constant infections
A whitish color behind the pupil
Nausea which persists or vomiting without nausea
Constant tiredness or noticeable paleness
Eye or vision changes which occur suddenly and persist
Recurrent or persistent fevers of unknown origin

If your child displays any or a number of these symptoms, do not delay consulting with your family doctor.  

For more information visit www.medwell.co.za

 

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