Death tolls arising from cancer has continued unabated. As the world creates awareness on Breast Cancer this month, WINIFRED OGBEBO reports on the trauma and management of the deadly scourge.
Globally, the month of October is used to create awareness on breast cancer. According to estimates, over 1.38 million new breast cancer cases are diagnosed annually with 458, 367 deaths worldwide annually. One of the keys for treating breast cancer is catching it very early on, experts say. This month aims to promote women’s awareness of the disease and encourage mammogram screening which has become much more accurate at detecting early states of the disease. Many non-governmental organisations and the Federal Ministry of Health are of the opinion that the fight against breast cancer should be taken to the public at large.
Events are held around the country in October, including walks and other fund-raising activities, that not only promote breast cancer awareness but also seek to raise money to provide all women access to healthcare and breast screening.
The issue is certainly worth paying attention to, with figures showing alarming rate of a million new cases of invasive breast cancer this year with approximately 20% dying from the disease, it is not to be taken lightly. Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women, and surprisingly, it can also occur in men, though the number of cases is well under one percent and less than 500 males will die from the disease in 2011.
Apart from having regular screenings and being generally aware of breast health, other factors that women should be aware of include:
* Post menopausal weight gain
* Family history of the disease
* Getting yearly mammograms after the age of 40
Arguments that are commonly heard include ideas that people rather wouldn’t know if they have cancer so avoid screenings, as well as not bothering because they feel healthy.
Two aspects that women should be aware of is the possibility to make regular self examinations once a month, and on a positive note, being clear that breast cancer survival rates are improving both from more cases being caught early on and treatments and technologies becoming more advanced. Breast cancer survivors generally have a good quality of post-treatment life and many go on to live happy and healthy lives, having overcome the disease.
Having this kind of information made clear is one of the primary goals of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
However, the four most common cancers are: Breast Cancer, Colon Cancer, Lung Cancer, Prostate Cancer .
Cancer is a broad term that encompasses over one hundred different types of cancer. Although each type has its own set of characteristics, there are some cancer symptoms that occur in many types of cancer.
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, medical journals said.
For most people with cancer, a persistent symptom is what prompted them to seek medical attention that eventually led to a cancer diagnosis.
A 47-year-old Anayo Okechukwu, said he had severe drenching night sweats, severe heartburn, and a severe host of pains in the stomach, lower back pain, shoulder pain, difficulty swallowing sometimes, and a drastic weight loss.
Currently living with liver cancer, Andrew presented with a noggin on his thyroid with a tumor that is growing and spreading. “So my symptoms were real,” he says, “I’m sad and I’m not afraid. I only feel afraid for my children ages 17, 15, 16 and 11. They will need me and I fear what they will fear or go through. I’m tired. I just want to make sure that I’m comfortable. No more pain” he says.
Another victim who refused his name on print, said, “I have had soft tissue sarcoma since age 21. It has been removed five times but spread to my liver five years ago. I have been having bad back, chest and hip pain. I have lumps and bumps all over.
I feel tired all the time, and I can’t handle any weight on my body at all. The hip pain causes me to not be able to sleep well, hurts to have sexual intercourse. In fact, I hurt every day. Five years ago, I was diagnosed stage four but have always been told they don’t know the primary source. I am hurting alone and scared to death”
A medical expert, Dr Okunoghae Imafidon, offers hope and succor to the sufferers of cancers, saying, “There is life after death. If you or your family are struggling with the possibilities of having cancer, stay positive and exercise, even more importantly read God’s Word. The Bible says it will give strength to thy navel and marrow to thy bones. Read the book of Psalms and Romans. He is the only one who gives true peace”
Musa Abu tells his own story. “I am a smoker of about 30 cigarettes a day, and have been smoking for a good 25 years, I am a female. I always feel extremely exhausted, although my line of work is very physical. Of late I have developed a pain in my chest, not serious but it is always there. My legs are aching in and behind the joints, especially when I have been lying down or sitting and I get up, and I suffer from very bad headaches on a daily basis. A friend of mine passed away last year with pancreatic cancer and one of her symptoms was the sore legs, do you think I need to be checked?”
For ovarian cancer, it is always characterized with abnormal bleeding, according to doctors. Mrs Victoria narrates her experience, “I did not know I had gone through the menopause. I still thought I was having periods when in fact I had womb cancer.
"I am due to have my womb removed. Apart from the bleeding, which still occurred roughly monthly, I felt a little tired, so I thought that at 59, I may have made medical history by being one of the oldest menstruating women because of the way the bleeding was occurring, monthly. But no, I did get a very nasty shock after having a biopsy and within one month of seeing my doctor and having my hospital tests, I had my operation in five days time. I will not deny I am a little frightened, but fingers crossed that it is contained in the lining of my womb”
Another says, “It turns out that I have small-cell cancer in the lung and liver. It is spreading fast. There is little they can do to slow it down, and there is no stopping it at all. I am terminally ill. By the time I found it out, I was a stage 4.”
Also, cancer knows no age barrier as a student laments his fate
“I have had a sinus infection for four months now. It never gets better and every doctor I have seen just prescribes antibiotics that never seem to help. Now I’m having pain in my left side in and under my ribs, I always feel like I’ve eaten a truck load of food, fatigue, I’m impossibly cold all the time, my glands in my neck are always swollen and sometimes hurt so bad that my teeth ache and I’m having my period every two weeks.
"I also have a rash that doesn’t itch or hurt on my arms and legs. I can’t seem to get any doctor to want to find out what is causing all this. They just throw antibiotics at me and send me on my way. Nobody believes me because I’m young and supposed to be healthy but clearly I’m not. Not even my roommate believes me and he’s been present for all of this stuff. I am so aggravated and worried about myself. How do I get them to listen?”
Speaking on the early symptoms of lung cancer, Okunoghae says, “We know that the survival rate from lung cancer is better the earlier it is caught. The 60% to 80% 5-year survival rate with stage 1 lung cancer drops to a saddening 10% with stage 4 diseases, yet nearly half of people has progressed to this advanced stage at the time of diagnosis.”
Significantly, he said one should keep in mind that understanding the early symptoms of lung cancer is important for non-smokers as well as smokers. According to World Health Organisation estimates, currently, 50 per cent of people who develop lung cancer are former smokers, and 15 per cent have never smoked.
Many people dismiss or adapt to a chronic cough, attributing it to something else. Perhaps it is allergies, a “leftover” cough following a cold, or dry air during the winter months. But, the Oncologist noted that a cough that lasts more than a few weeks can be a sign of something else. “A chronic cough as an early symptom of lung cancer is even easier to miss if you have a condition that predisposes you to coughing, such as asthma, COPD, allergies, or gastroesophageal reflux. Coughing up blood (hemoptysis) is a common symptom of lung cancer, but can be fairly subtle and you may notice only a small amount of blood tinged phlegm when you cough. If you experience a persistent cough, check with your doctor, and ask for a second opinion if you don’t get a clear answer.”
There are four standard methods of treatment for cancer: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy and biologic therapy. Clinical trials may be an option for some as cancer treatment who meet certain study criteria. When initially diagnosed with cancer, a cancer specialist, an oncologist, will provide you with the cancer treatment options. He or she will recommend the best treatment plan based on your type of cancer, how far it has spread, and other important factors like your age and general health.
Ultimately, you are the one who makes your treatment decisions based on your doctor’s recommendations, possible second opinions, and other information gathered from qualified professionals.
Surgery: Surgery can be used to prevent, treat, stage (determine how advanced the cancer is), and diagnose cancer. In relation to cancer treatment, surgery is done to remove tumors or as much of the cancerous tissue as possible. It is often performed in conjunction with chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
For those whose cancer is not treatable, palliative surgery may be an option to relieve pain that may be caused by the cancer. Palliative surgery is not intended to treat or cure the cancer, or even to prolong life, but more to lessen discomfort.
Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses drugs to eliminate cancer cells. Unlike surgery, chemotherapy affects the entire body, not just a specific part. It works by targeting rapidly multiplying cancer cells. Unfortunately, other types of cells in our bodies also multiply at high rates, like hair follicle cells and the cells that line our stomachs. This is why chemo can cause side effects like hair loss and an upset stomach.
Chemotherapy is most commonly given by pill or intravenously (IV), but can be given in other ways. A single type of chemotherapy, or a combination of drugs, may be prescribed for a specific length of time. Like surgery, chemotherapy can be prescribed alone, in conjunction with radiation therapy or biologic therapy.
Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy uses certain types of energy to shrink tumors or eliminate cancer cells. It works by damaging a cancer cell’s DNA, making it unable to multiply. Cancer cells are highly sensitive to radiation and typically die when treated. Nearby healthy cells can be damaged as well, but are resilient and are able to fully recover.
Radiation therapy may be given alone, along with chemotherapy, and/or with surgery. The decision to combine radiation therapy with other types of treatment depends on the stage of cancer and other factors.