The body is made up of trillions of cells that divide to form new cells when needed. When cells
grow old they are replaced by new cells. However, when cancer begins to form, there is a
disruption in this orderly process – old cells survive when they should not, and new cells form
when they are not needed. These abnormal cells divide uncontrollably and have the ability to
invade and destroy nearby tissues. Cancer is currently the second leading cause of death
globally, however recent advances in cancer screening and treatment have improved survival
The risk factors for cancer
The most common risk factors for cancer include Genetic factors, ageing, tobacco, sun
exposure, radiation exposure, chemicals and other substances, some viruses and bacteria,
certain hormones, family history of cancer, alcohol, poor diet, lack of physical activity, or being
Signs and symptoms of cancer
Cancer symptoms and signs are not very specific. They vary depending on the type and grade
of cancer. Some of the general signs linked with it include fatigue, weight loss, difficulty
swallowing, unusual bleeding, pain, skin changes, lumps, fever, change in bowel or bladder
function, persistent cough, hoarseness, or tissue masses.
Just like any other medical condition, an accurate diagnosis is the first step to getting effective
treatment. There are various ways through which the doctor can diagnose cancer, these
Biopsy: A biopsy involves the removal of a small amount of tissue from the tumour to examine
under a microscope, looking out for signs of malignancy. It is an important first step in the
management of the disease.
Imaging tests: This involves the use of generated images of internal organs of the body which
aids the oncologist to appreciate the extent of the spread of cancer. This is important for staging
the disease. Some of the commonly used imaging techniques include computerized tomography
(CT) scan, bone scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET)
scan, ultrasound and X-ray, among others.
Laboratory tests: The Oncologist may also request laboratory investigations that assess
the functionality of organs of the body as well as to monitor treatment.
Being referred to an oncologist helps patients to:
- Ascertain the nature of an illness whether it is malignant or not.
- Accurately stage the condition.
- Plan comprehensive treatment with multi-disciplinary team support.
- Follow care during and after treatment.
- Providing tailor-made support services for both patients and caregivers.
Cancer prevention tips
Most cancers can be cured if identified early and prompt and appropriate care instituted.
Prevention measures are being advocated which could be specific like HPV Vaccination in
cervical cancer to general measures in most cancers such as :
- Maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active.
- Eating healthily
- Not using tobacco.
- Avoiding unnecessary exposure to radiation.
- Making quality sleep a priority.
- Limiting alcohol intake.
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