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Updated: February 13, 2013 16:36 IST

When in doubt, check it out

Dr. KRISHNA KUMAR RATHNAM
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What you can do when diagnosed with cancer and the treatment available.

The best thing to do is to clear any doubt with an early check up, when one suspects one or more of the signs of cancer. And if someone is detected with cancer, the next step is to ensure one is in the right hands for treatment since cancer does not give a “second chance” in most cases.

Screening for any disease refers to the use of simple tests in a healthy population in order to identify individuals who have disease, but do not yet have the symptoms. This facilitates in detection of disease in very early stage which can be curable. Examples include breast cancer screening using self breast examination; clinical examination by doctors and with mammography for those above 40 years.

Cervical cancer screenings use simple cytology screening methods, like “Pap smears test” , and are very effective. Where resources are limited even simpler tests like Visual inspection with ascetic acid is an effective low cost option. Prostatic cancer can be detected early by certain blood tests and cancer of intestines by using some motion examination and periodic endoscopy tests. Simple clinical oral cavity examination once a year in chronic smokers and tobacco users may facilitate early detection of oral cavity cancer.

All cancers are not treated the same way. It depends on the exact type and stage of cancer. Certain cancers can be cured with surgery alone. Cancer treatment is given by three different categories of specialists – the cancer surgeon who removes the cancer, the radiation therapy specialist who administers high dose radiation to eradicate cancer and the medical oncologist who administers chemotherapy.

The best treatment is usually delivered by a consortium of the three specialists discussing prior to and through the treatment.

Surgery for cancer has evolved a long way from very radical ones in the early 20th centuries to very conservative and cosmetic, yet complete ones in the 21st century. For example , a woman need not fear of losing her breast if cancer is detected early. Similarly surgeries that preserve the uterus and unaffected ovaries, in early genital cancers save the potential of child bearing for young women with curable cancers. Sometimes “radiotherapy”, is added after surgery or even replaces surgery. Very accurate targeting of the rays in radiotherapy using computer planning, spares surrounding normal tissue from the effect of radiation thereby decreasing short and long term side effects.

Chemotherapy which means medicines to kill cancer cells and it is added to complete the treatment protocol. Some diseases are totally curable with chemotherapy alone and do not require surgery or radiation. With the advances in treatment, curable cancers are definitely increasing in number and it is imperative, that the common man understands this and goes quickly to the right place and right person for correct treatment. Moreover many treatments without side effects are available today in various cancer treatment centres and one should not postpone cancer treatment for fear of side effects from treatment modalities.

There are many drugs known as “targeted therapy”, that target only cancer cells and spare normal tissues. Many more and newer vaccines are coming up to prevent cancer. And they together help to eliminate all fears about the dreaded disease.

(To be continued next Thursday)

(The writer is Consultant (Haemato and Medical Oncology), Meenakshi Mission Hospital and Research Centre)

(For queries, Oncology Helpline Nos.9487484294 / 9944862408. Feedback and questions may also be emailed to: kkrathnam@gmail.com)

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