Cancer – Not Merely a Zodiac Sign

by Crispin Fernandez, MD

| Photo by Angiola Harry on Unsplash

Cancer is a large group of diseases that can affect any part of the body, also known as malignant tumors and neoplasms. One defining characteristic of cancer is the rapid appearance of abnormal cells that grow beyond their usual boundaries and may infringe on adjoining body parts and spread to other organs; this process is called metastasis. Widespread metastases are largely the cause of death from cancer.

Every patient’s case is unique, and the best treatment plan for one patient may not be the best for another.

Many recent advances in cancer treatment using AI, DNA sequencing, and precision oncology, among other techniques to improve the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, exist. Among the latest treatments are (a) CAR-T cell therapy for the treatment of certain types of lymphoma, leukemia, and multiple myeloma; (b) monoclonal antibodies such as Trodelvy for metastatic triple-negative breast cancer; (c) Oncolytic virus therapy such as Imlygic for inoperable melanoma; and, (d) cancer vaccines like Provenge for prostate cancer.

Any patient’s best hope remains early detection and intervention. Cancer detection, such as physical exams, laboratory tests, imaging tests, and biopsies, is crucial in early cancer diagnosis. Early diagnosis focuses on detecting symptomatic patients as early as possible, while screening consists of testing healthy individuals to identify those having cancers before any symptoms appear.

Symptoms that may indicate cancer include lumps or changes in skin color. Some common symptoms of cancer include fatigue or extreme tiredness that doesn’t get better with rest, weight loss or gain of 10 pounds or more for no known reason, eating problems such as not feeling hungry, trouble swallowing, belly pain, or nausea and vomiting, swelling or lumps anywhere in the body, thickening or lump in the breast or other part of the body, pain, especially new or with no known reason, that doesn’t go away or gets worse.

“While one cannot live like a hermit to avoid all cancer risk, certainly making lifestyle choices is quite doable, and developing a mindset of treating our bodies like a temple or coming to a realization that replacement human parts are still complex to go by, then perhaps cancer can be held at bay for most of us.”

Other symptoms are skin changes such as a lump that bleeds or turns scaly, a new mole or a change in a mole, a sore that does not heal, or a yellowish color to the skin or eyes (jaundice), cough or hoarseness that does not go away, Unusual bleeding or bruising for no known reason, change in bowel habits, such as constipation or diarrhea, that doesn’t go away or a change in how your stools look.

According to the WHO, cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020, or almost one in six deaths. Breast, lung, colon, rectum, and prostate cancers are the most common. Around one-third of deaths from cancer are due to lifestyle risk factors such as tobacco use, high body mass index, alcohol consumption, low fruit and vegetable intake, and a sedentary lifestyle. Cancer-causing infections, such as human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis, are responsible for approximately 30% of cancer cases in poorer countries.

Among preventive measures are not using tobacco; maintaining a healthy body weight; eating a healthy diet, including fruit and vegetables; doing physical activity regularly against HPV and hepatitis B if you belong to a group for which vaccination is recommended; avoiding ultraviolet radiation and, or using sunscreen; limiting radiation exposure at work; reducing exposure to indoor and outdoor pollution; avoiding or reducing consumption of alcohol; getting vaccinated against HPV and hepatitis B if you belong to a group for which vaccination is recommended; avoiding ultraviolet radiation exposure (which primarily results from exposure to the sun and artificial tanning devices) and, or, using sun protection measures; reducing exposure to outdoor and indoor air pollution, including radon (a radioactive gas produced from the natural decay of uranium.

While one cannot live like a hermit to avoid all cancer risk, certainly making lifestyle choices is quite doable, and developing a mindset of treating our bodies like a temple or coming to a realization that replacement human parts are still complex to go by, then perhaps cancer can be held at bay for most of us. Yes, some individuals smoke and, or drink all their lives and still live to a ripe old age, but those individuals are also blessed with distinct idiosyncratic genetic gifts not true for those who were born as mere mortals.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Crispin Fernandez advocates for overseas Filipinos, public health, transformative political change, and patriotic economics. He is also a community organizer, leader, and freelance writer.

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