A cancer diagnosis is understandably alarming and even though cancer can now often be effectively treated, it remains a very serious illness. According to the World Health Organisation, a third of all cancers could be prevented if people changed their behaviour and avoided cancer risk factors.
Cancer, in other words the unrestricted growth of malignant tumours, is the result of mutations in the genetic material inside cells. These mutations can be caused by a variety of different factors, including genetically inherited risk factors, the natural ageing process, as well as external influences like lifestyle, harmful substances or infections. Some of these risk factors can be avoided – others can’t. Around a third of all cancers are caused by preventable causes such a smoking, alcohol consumption or an unbalanced diet. The earlier cancer is detected, the greater the chances of a successful treatment.
Cancer screening is divided into primary and secondary preventive measures:
Primary prevention refers to any measures aimed at preventing the development of cancer. Certain habits are known to promote the development of particular types of cancer. For instance, smoking can lead to lung cancer and excessive alcohol consumption can cause oesophageal cancer.
Breast examination: Every woman should examine their own breasts once a month. By doing so, they will become familiar with how their breasts feel and can detect any changes, which should then be investigated by a gynaecologist. More on the topic of breast cancer.
- Pap smear: The cervix is examined annually by a gynaecologist, who carries out what is known as a ‘smear test’. This involves taking a sample of cervical cells, which are then examined for any early signs of cancer.
- Prostate examination: The doctor inserts a finger into the rectum to examine the prostate. A very hard and uneven prostate gland can be a sign of cancer. The examination should ideally be combined with a blood test. More on the topic of prostate cancer.
- Skin examination: It is normal for skin to have spots and moles. However, if they become larger, change in colour or start bleeding, a skin specialist should be consulted. In cases of doubt, unusual changes in the skin are usually surgically removed.
- Colonoscopy: The entire large intestine is checked for polyps, which are non-cancerous growths that can develop into cancer. If any polyps are found, they can be painlessly removed during the examination.