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10 things that women ignore about cancer

Last updated on: January 20, 2011 19:01 IST

10 things that women ignore about cancer

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Ladies, you need to be more clued in when it comes to your health and well-being, says Dr Veena Bhat.

Awareness regarding cancer and its preventive strategies is low in India.

Delhi ranks first as far as the incidence rate of cancer is concerned. The ratio of new cases diagnosed per year is 126/1,00,000 for males and 142/1,00,000 for females, as per the Cancer Atlas for India (2004).

The lowest incidence of cancer among males is in Bangalore (92 new cases/1,00,000 annually) and among females, in Bhopal (107 new cases/1,00,000 annually).

Screening for cancer results in diagnosis at an early stage -- this, in turn, results in a higher success rate for treatments. But even with the considerable threat of cancer to females, as mentioned above, only three percent of women in India undergo regular screenings.

Awareness about the risk factors that have a causative role in cancer is also important. Factors like smoking and dietary habits are modifiable and those who have non-modifiable risk factors, if screened regularly, can be diagnosed at an early stage, translating into increased chances of curability.

How can women reduce their risk of cancer?

Although Pap smears and mammograms are important as far as screening for cervical and breast cancer is considered, these alone are not the answer for protection against all types of cancer. One should not forget that these are not the only cancers that affect females. Thus, an awareness regarding risk factors, cancer symptoms and behavioural modifications need to be implemented.

There is definite evidence that a delayed sexual debut, a limited number of sexual partners, the prophylactic Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine and breastfeeding are associated with a decreased risk of cervical and breast cancer. Smoking, radiation exposure, alcohol and chronic infections are the factors known to increase the risk of cancer. Other factors that may affect the cancer risk are diet, physical activity levels and obesity.

Mentioned below and in the following pages are some cancer symptoms which are usually overlooked by women. If you have any of these symptoms for a prolonged period or there is a frequent recurrence, it's time for you to schedule a visit with your doctor:

Unexplained weight loss, loss of appetite or weakness and fatigue

About one-third of unintentional weight loss cases are secondary to malignancy. Cancers to suspect in patients with unexplained weight loss include gastrointestinal, pancreatic, ovarian, hematologic or lung cancers. Similarly, loss of appetite and fatigue can be early symptoms of a form of cancer and should be evaluated.


Image: Lisa Ray is a survivor of multiple myeloma, a rare form of bone marrow cancer
Photographs: Mike Cassese/Reuters
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Any oral ulcer that refuses to heal

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Mouth ulcers are often left untreated, since they usually heal on their own. They often seem harmless, but when they recur often or become persistent, thorough check-up by a physician is required.


Image: Kylie Minogue is a breast cancer survivor
Photographs: Kieran Doherty/Reuters
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Difficulty swallowing

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When you have difficulty swallowing, ie you experience the sensation that food is stuck in the throat, or from the neck down to just above the abdomen behind the breastbone (sternum), it needs to be checked out. This symptom may be associated with pain, coughing or choking. It is usually a symptom of cancers of the foodpipe (esophagus).


Image: Actress Christina Applegate is a breast cancer survivor
Photographs: Danny Moloshok/Reuters
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Swollen neck nodes, nodes in the underarms or any other abnormal swellings on the body

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Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, underarms or groin are a common symptom in a number of infections and cancers. Similarly, any lump in the body should be evaluated to rule out cancer.


Image: Singer Sheryl Crow is a breast cancer survivor
Photographs: Fred Prouser/Reuters
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Any lump in the breast, nipple discharge

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Breast self-examaniation should be part of your monthly health care routine, and you should visit your doctor if you find any lump, nodule, blood-stained discharge or any other changes. If you're over 40 or at a high risk of the disease, you should also have an annual mammogram and physical exam done by a doctor. The earlier breast cancer is found and diagnosed, the better your chances of beating it.


Image: Singer and actress Olivia Newton-John is a breast cancer survivor
Photographs: Phil McCarten/Reuters
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Long-standing cough with or without expectoration or Hemoptysis

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There are many conditions involving blood in sputum and long-standing cough, including bronchitis, pneumonia and tuberculosis. However lung cancer, especially in smokers, may also present itself in a similar manner.


Image: Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon is a breast cancer survivor
Photographs: Lucas Jackson/Reuters
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Bloating, abdominal pain, rectal bleeding or blood in the stool

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Bloating and abdominal pain can be symptoms of underlying GI or ovarian cancers. Blood in the stools can be a sign of some serious disease. Usual causes include piles and anal fissures, however; it is also seen in colon cancer, so you should make it a priority to schedule an appointment with your physician.


Image: Singer Melissa Etheridge is a breast cancer survivor
Photographs: Lucas Jackson/Reuters
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Unusually heavy menstrual bleeding or inter-menstrual bleeding

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A change in hormonal levels is a common cause of abnormal menstrual bleeding. It may be seen in uterine fibroids and also in cancer of the uterus.


Image: Sharon Osbourne is a surviver of colon cancer
Photographs: Fred Prouser/Reuters
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Any abnormal per vaginum discharge or post-coital bleeding

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Cancer of the uterus is always a concern, specifically when the bleeding occurs after menopause. Other types of cancer include cervical cancer; bleeding in that case can sometimes be triggered by intercourse and is termed post-coital bleeding.


Image: Actress and author Suzanne Somers is a breast cancer survivor
Photographs: Danny Moloshok/Reuters
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Blood in the urine or faeces

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Blood in the urine can come from any condition that results in infection or injury to the urinary tract. Blood in the urine is especially painless; it should be a cause of concern among the elderly and needs further evaluation.


Image: American figure skater Peggy Fleming is a breast cancer survivor
Photographs: Chris Pizzello/Reuters
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