Noncommunicable diseases

World Cancer Day, 4 February 2014

Cancer - early diagnosis and treatment saves lives

With cancer, starting the right treatment quickly is key to saving lives. An important requirement of this is being diagnosed at the earliest possible stage. 8.2 million people die from cancer each year around the world and 1.2 million of these are in WHO’s South-East Asia Region, where an estimated 1.7 million new cancer cases are diagnosed each year. For women in the Region, cancer of the breast and cervix are the most common cancers, whilst lung and oral cavity cancers are the most common for men.

Meena's story - Early detection:

Meena Bijlani, a housewife from New Delhi, found a lump on her left breast on 1 July 2013. The 55 year old mother of two immediately asked her closest ally - her husband, Prakash - for a second opinion and they both agreed to go to their doctor that same day. Their quick action means that seven months later, Meena is nearing the end of her treatment and is about to be given the all clear. She is on the brink of winning her personal battle with cancer.

"When we first heard the news I was taken aback. We were upset and I cried. After the initial shock, I was determined to start treatment as soon as possible. I have two neighbours who have had breast cancer, so I knew it was something that could be treated.

The secret to Meena's success is clear. In her words, "If you have any symptoms, don't ignore them. Go to your doctor as soon as possible. I want to tell any woman who finds a lump not to be scared but to deal with it immediately. This is a curable disease."

Dr G.K. Rath, Professor of the Department of Radiation and Oncology and Chief of the Dr B R Ambedkar Institute of cancer and Rotary Hospital at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, where Meena Bijlani is being treated, said, "At AIIMS, we are fortunate to have the technology available in order to quickly test and treat cancer patients, but more than 75% of patients present to us in stage III-IV, where the cure rate is lower than at the early stages. When it comes to treating this disease, every day is precious. I would tell anyone who has a doubt to go to their doctor and get tested right away. By doing this we can detect cancers at an early stage, where the cure rate is very high. Besides this, many cancers are eminently preventable, for example, tobacco related cancers, cancer of the uterine cervix and liver cancers caused by infections.

Some early signs of cancer include lumps, sores that fail to heal, abnormal bleeding, persistent indigestion, and chronic hoarseness. Early diagnosis is particularly relevant for cancers of the breast, cervix, mouth, larynx, colon and rectum, and skin.

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