October is coloured pink. This is because it is observed around the world as Breast Cancer Awareness month. It underscores how important it is to diagnose and treat breast cancer at the earliest. This can only be done if more women recognize the symptoms of cancer sooner.
If numbers are to be believed, close to 8 lakh people die of cancer in India every year. It is slowly emerging as the second biggest cause of death in the country. A record 12 lakh new cases are being registered every year. Not only this, it is estimated that more than 2 million people might be fighting this deadly disease in India right now.
Sayani’s mother, Usha, was in a dilemma. She did not know who to talk about the changes that she was experiencing. It had started with a prickly sensation in her left breast. She ignored it thinking it must just be normal. When a few weeks later the skin around it turned orangish red and itchy. It was when she sensed something lumpy in the chest area, alarm bells started ringing.
At Sarita’s urging, she saw a gynaecologist the very next day. The diagnosis made both their worst fears come true. Usha was suffering from first stage breast cancer. The doctor commended her and her daughter for taking action instantly. Had she ignored the symptoms of cancer any longer, her own life would have been in grave danger.
Public awareness about cancer warning signs can be crucial in the diagnosis of patients in the initial stages itself. Cancer can often go unnoticed since it may not cause any physical sign. Symptoms also depend on the size of the tumour, how far has it spread, what other organs is it affecting etc. However, if any of the symptoms of cancer mentioned below seem to get worse over time, you should be careful and see a doctor as soon as possible:
1. Losing Weight - If you are not on a crash diet or exercise, but still seem to be losing weight, upto 5kgs or more, it could be an early cancer warning sign. This is most commonly seen in cancer of the pancreas, stomach, oesophagus and lung.
2. Fever - A rise in temperature when you have a cold is nothing to worry about. However, a fever that refuses to go could be a symptom.. A fever is a sign that your body is fighting an infection. However, cancer affects your immune system, making it harder to fight infection and it leads to an elevated body temperature for a longer time. This is mostly seen in blood cancers such as leukemia or lymphoma.
3. Tiredness - No matter how much you rest, you always end up feeling tired. This is one of the cancer warning signs that is often brushed aside. It can occur as a result of blood cancer such as leukemia or colon or stomach cancer. The latter also leads to blood loss that can make you feel more tired.
4. Pain - If you are experiencing pain in any part of your body that seems abnormal, it could be an early cancer warning sign that your body is trying to give you. A headache that does not go away with medicine could be a sign of brain cancer, while long term back pain could be a symptom of cancer of the colon, ovary or rectum. Pain is one of the symptoms of cancer of the bones or testicles as well. It suggests that the cancer has spread from where it began.
5. Skin Changes - If you observe any visible physical differences in your skin, you should be careful and see a doctor at the earliest. Some of the cancer warning signs could be skin turning dark due to hyperpigmentation, yellowish skin and eyes, redness of skin, itchy skin or excessive growth of hair on the skin. Cancers of the breast, testicles, lymph nodes and other soft tissues in the body often show up as a lump or thickening that grows in size with time.
6. Bowel Habits - You should be sensitive to any changes that you notice in your bowel habits or bladder function. For instance long term constipation, diarrhoea, or abnormal change in stool size could indicate colon cancer. Pain during urination, presence of blood in the urine, or frequency of urination could be symptoms of bladder or prostate cancer.
With the support of Sayani, her friends and family, Usha eventually beat cancer. After first-hand experience of the costs that came with cancer, they also urged their friends and family to opt for cancer insurance. While they were fortunate enough to be able to bear the staggering costs, they knew that others might not be.
From that point onward, both Usha and Sayani also made sure to keep track of any prominent physical changes taking place and vowed to listen to any warning signs their body gave them.
Acknowledgment of these important signs of cancer can help you prepare to face it and detect your condition early. This could increase your chances of getting treated and hence surviving. Even if any of these symptoms is not an early cancer warning sign, your physician can let you know if it is indicative of some other health condition that you are unaware of.