Cancer screening saves lives

18 July 2020

Cancer is the second highest cause of death in the country and although many know the dangers of this disease, fear and awareness alone are still unable to lower it on the graph.

Sunway Medical Centre Consultant Clinical Oncologist, Dr Aqilah Othman said the level of public awareness is there but to undergo preliminary screening tests is still low. Many are embarrassed to undergo the tests, besides not caring about it as they feel healthy or are in denial of chronic diseases.

“The lack of awareness and attitude about screening makes the matter often ignored, when in fact cancer screening tests should be done when the person is healthy and does not have any symptoms of pain.

“Individuals often undergo screening tests after experiencing ‘abnormal’ signs, but it is considered late to get treatment especially going for tests after suffering from severe pain or being in critical condition,” she said.

Dr Aqilah added that the most common screening tests performed are related to breast, colorectal, cervical and lung cancer. The screening tests vary depending on the type of cancer and the person’s age as each type of cancer tends to strike at different ages.

Older individuals have a higher risk of getting this disease, especially if they are exposed to elements that can cause cancer or those with occupational hazards.  

“Individuals aged 45 and above should undergo screening tests to detect breast and colorectal cancer, while those who are sexually active are recommended to do a cervical cancer screening as early as 25 years old,” Dr Aqilah said.

She added that individuals at risk are those who have immediate family members who have cancer, especially those who are confirmed cases at the age of 40, because the likelihood of genetic being the cause of the disease is higher.

Those who smoke, who are elderly or have obesity are also examples of individuals at risk.

“A mammogram test takes 10 to 15 minutes, and can detect small changes in the breast. While cervical cancer screening is actually not painful and fast, but many are embarrassed to do it. Do not be ashamed to do a pap smear and HPV virus test. If all women who meet the criteria undergo regular screening, it is estimated that more than 80% of deaths due to cervical cancer can be prevented,” Dr Aqilah said.

In fact, for colorectal cancer screening, it is as easy as doing a stool sample test. If blood is detected, it is recommended to do a colonoscopy where a small flexible camera is inserted through the anus to see the condition of the intestine’s inner lining.

However, not all cancers have specific screening tests, Dr Aqilah said.

Fatigue and fever that last for more than four weeks are signs that a person is unwell and needs follow-up treatment.

“If you are constantly tired, lose weight for no apparent reason, or experience any unusual fluid discharge or bleeding, these are signs that need to be further investigated.

“Early signs of breast cancer is usually a lump in the breast, while the signs for cervical cancer are unusual fluid discharge or blood, and bleeding during or after sex.

“If there is bleeding during defecation, or change in bowel habits, it may be an early sign of colorectal cancer,” Dr Aqilah said.

Does abnormal screening results mean that a person has cancer? Dr Aqilah explained that abnormal results do not necessarily mean that the person has cancer.

“If the results are not normal, the medical staff may need to do other more specific tests to make sure the person has cancer or not. Cancer screening tests can not only detect cancer in the early stages before cells or tissues become cancerous, therefore individuals should prepare a specific budget for health screenings,” Dr Aqilah said.

Practising a healthy lifestyle and undergoing regular screening tests can save you money in the long run.

“Not everyone with cancer ends in death. If detected early, it is easy for treatment to be administered and the chance of recovery is higher. But do not worry if cancer is detected late, modern medicine today is much different from before,” Dr Aqilah said.

Many cancer patients, even with late detection, could still live their daily lives like everyone else after receiving treatment, she added.

Source: Berita Harian

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