Sanjiva Wijesinha -writer and physician

Short stories, Travel and Health Information

Changing View of Cancer

A hundred years ago, there was no cure for cancer.

People who were diagnosed with a cancer accepted it as a death sentence since, once diagnosed, all they could do was simply prepare themselves for death.

In the first quarter of the 21st century, however, we can prevent more than three quarters of all skin cancers and more than half of all other cancers. Moreover, methods of treatment like surgery, radiotherapy and various chemotherapeutic drugs ensure that many folk with a serious cancer will survive more than five years from the time they are diagnosed.

In the past, our concept of cancer was that of a disease which caused recognizable symptoms – in other words, you suspected that you had a cancer when something out of the ordinary – a lump in the breast, bleeding from the intestine or womb, a swelling in the abdomen – manifested itself. The problem with diagnosing cancer after symptoms appeared was that detection occurred in the late stages of the cancer’s existence – when a complete cure was usually not achievable.

If cancers can be detected by screening people BEFORE they develop symptoms, when the cancer is still in a very early stage, then effective treatment could be instituted early and many people could be prevented from dying of this disease.

Now Cancer is not a single disease. The word comes from CANCER (the Latin word for Crab) presumably because the tumour spread by growing projections or roots into the body, rather like the appendages of a crab. ‘Cancer’ represents a group of diseases characterized by abnormal growth of cells in one of the body’s organs that results in the these cancerous cells rapidly spreading directly to involve their surroundings or by groups of these abnormal cells splitting off and spreading through the circulation to settle down and start growing in other organs.

While it is true that we have seen advances in surgery and the use of techniques like radiotherapy, chemotherapy and immunotherapy to control many cancers, how much better if we could nip cancer in the bud, identifying it and treating it before the abnormal cells have a chance to spread?

This is the rationale behind the screening programmes now in place in many countries to detect cancers of the breast, womb, bowel and prostate – and the active prevention programmes in place to prevent cancers of the lungs, skin and bowel.

Screening involves testing healthy people who are at risk even if they have no symptoms – for example, women getting a breast mammogram and a PAP test every two years, men getting a regular prostate check, folk who have had a family member diagnosed with bowel cancer getting a check colonoscopy every two to three years or so.

We now know beyond any doubt that cigarette smoking causes cancer, excessive exposure (especially if one has pale skin) to the harsh rays of the sun causes skin cancer, diets consisting principally of red meat and processed meat increase the risk of colon cancer by 25 to 30%.

Our aim of “curing” cancer therefore lies in preventing the disease – and detecting it when it is in its earliest, curable stage!


One comment on “Changing View of Cancer

  1. Heather Pitt
    April 13, 2020

    So very true – We are just so blessed to live our lives with so many medical discoveries over the last 100 years . I am one of the very fortunate ones to survive cancer & have been blessed with an extra 35 years . I am so very thankful .


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This entry was posted on May 13, 2017 by in Health Matters and tagged , .

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