Cancer: Symptoms, screenings, causes and prevention

Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020, or nearly one in six deaths. There is no doubt that cancer is one of the scariest diseases out there and usually has no cure if it develops to a certain stage. On account of National Cancer Awareness Day, let’s take out time to understand the symptoms of cancer and ways to detect it at an early stage, and also to understand what causes it so that necessary precautions can be taken.

What is cancer?

Cancer is an umbrella term for a number of diseases or abnormalities caused by the rapid division, spread and production of abnormal cells in the body. This group of abnormal cells can divide without any control and can spread to nearby or distant organs. Cancer can begin from almost any cell in the body.

Symptoms of Cancer

Health Shots reached out to Dr Samir Gupta, Professor and HOD, Department of Surgical Oncology, Dr DY Patil Medical Hospital and Research Centre, to understand basics about cancer.

The most common sites for cancer are breasts, uterus, lungs, colon and rectum, and prostate. The warning signs for cancer are:

* Thickening or lump in the breast.
* Unusual bleeding or discharge from the vagina
* Change in bowel habits that is persistent
* Loss of weight or appetite
* Persistent fatigue or low grade fever

cancer symptoms
If you feel tired all the time, it could be sign of cancer. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

These are some of the most commonly observed symptoms of cancer. If you observe any of these it is best to consult your doctor and get some cancer screenings done for early detection as at early stages of cancer the treatment is possible.

Commonly done investigations to detect cancer:

  • Mammogram is done for the detection of breast cancer. Dr Gupta advises that this should be done every five years starting from the age of 40. After 50 years of age, to be done yearly.
  • Pap Smear: This is a screening for Cervical Cancer. Screening with Pap smear and HPV test every five years from the age twenty five.

Based on the symptoms other tests like blood investigations, Chest X-ray and Ultrasound for the abdomen are done to detect cancer.

What causes cancer?

According to the World Health Organisation, around one-third of deaths from cancer are due to tobacco use, high body mass index, alcohol consumption, low fruit and vegetable intake, and lack of physical activity. It can also be caused because of genetic factors or some environmental factors like:

* Exposure to radiation and Ultraviolet (UV) light
* Harmful chemicals present in cigarettes, alcohol, air pollution or contaminated foods and drinks
* Infection caused by virus, bacteria or parasite

Alcohol will increase your risk of getting Cancer. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Now that we know what are the major causes of Cancer we can at least try our best to stay away from these things.

Here’s how to prevent cancer:

1. Maintain an active lifestyle. Lack of physical activity is a major cause of cancer and thus the best prevention technique will be to at least get 30 minutes of daily physical activity.

2. A person’s diet should be balanced with large portions of green leafy vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meat or plant based proteins. Foods rich in antioxidants are also supposed to help. “Also, the amount of carbohydrates and sugar in your diet must be restricted,” says Dr Gupta.

3. Chemical carcinogens present in tobacco and alcohol are again some of the major causes of cancer and hence one should avoid these. Dr Gupta advises that smoking should be avoided completely and only a minimum amount of alcohol should be taken.

no smoking
Smoking is an open invitation to lung cancer. Image Courtesy; Shutterstock

4. Try to reduce stress in your life by regular 6-8 hours of sleep. Meditation and Yoga can also help in reducing stress.


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