Sanjiva Wijesinha -writer and physician

Short stories, Travel and Health Information

The Symptoms of Cancer

Over the years I have seen so many patients suffering from – and dying from – cancer that I felt I should use my webpage  to write about the symptoms of cancer.

In very broad terms, the features of cancer can be divided into general symptoms (that are seen in all types of malignant disease) and local symptoms (that manifest in the particular part of the body affected by the tumour).

The general features of cancer include non-specific symptoms like unexplained loss of weight, anaemia, breathlessness and reduced appetite. These symptoms by themselves can be due to a variety of causes – but if you are noticed to be suffering from any of them and there is no ready explanation, then this should alert you to the possibility that you may be harbouring a malignant disease. You should, without procrastinating, see your doctor to discuss the matter and if needed get some tests done.
Local symptoms are easier to associate with cancer – for example a growth on the skin, a lump in the breast, bleeding from the bowel, bladder or womb, coughing or vomiting blood etc. Headache or bone pain that is constant is also a danger sign.

The important message is that if you have some unusual symptom or notice a lump or growth that you have not felt before, you should get yourself checked out by a reliable doctor. It is better to have a thorough examination and even some X-rays, scans and blood tests so that you can be reassured that there is nothing wrong – than to think there is nothing wrong and hope the symptoms will go away.

If a cancer is detected early, it can in many cases be cured – or at least treated so that the disease goes into remission and the affected person can live for many years without recurrence.

If left undetected and untreated, cancers enlarge and spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body so that by the time the patient is diagnosed and treatment is sought, the only option is palliative therapy.
Not only should we try to detect cancers in the curable stage, we should also utilise what is currently known about the development of cancers to take steps to prevent ourselves developing cancers.
It is now well known that inhaling cigarette smoke with all its noxious cancer-causing chemicals leads to lung cancer – and also to bladder cancer. Smokers are about three times as likely to get bladder cancer as non-smokers.
Consuming lots of red meat and processed meats increases the risk of developing bowel cancer. A 2005 US study of 148,610 subjects added important information about the effects of long-term meat consumption – a high intake of red and processed meats was linked to a substantial increase in the risk of cancer in the lower colon and rectum.

Being infected with certain types of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) that are transmitted by sexual activity is now known to be responsible for the vast majority of cervical (womb) cancer. Today vaccination against HPV is available, and administering this vaccine to girls BEFORE they reach the age of sexual activity is expected to greatly reduce the incidence of cervical cancer in the future.

To curb cancer deaths, we need to minimise the risks and maximise the chances of early detection.

2 comments on “The Symptoms of Cancer

  1. Prasanna
    May 18, 2015

    Yes, we all need to be more careful and keep listening to your body…..

  2. Christine
    May 19, 2015

    So true Sanjiva … I have particularly noticed with older generations that their fear of the unknown (or of doctors) makes them go into denial (and put their head in the sand)… they see a lump or feel something is wrong but ltheir fear makes them ignore it and just hope it goes away, until sadly, the cancer is so far advanced that by the time they do finally see a doctor, it is too late to treat. Early visits tova doctor, and treatment if necessary, can reduce unnecessary anxiety and save lives.

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This entry was posted on May 18, 2015 by in Uncategorized.
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