The Six Early Detectable and Treatable Cancers
Cancer is not a single disease: there are more than 200 types of cancer, according to which part of the body or specific tissue it originated from.
The good news is that there are a number of cancers that when detected early, respond well to treatment and often with a 100% cure rate. Specifically, the following six types of cancer fall into this category:
One of the most common cancers in women, accounting for 17.5% of all cancer cases in the UAE, this is also one of the most treatable, especially if diagnosed early. With a cure rate of 98% in these circumstances, the goal is to find cancers before they start to cause symptoms. Most doctors believe that tests for finding breast cancer early save many thousands of lives each year. The following detection methods are recommended:
- Clinical Breast Examination – is an examination of your breasts by a health expert such as a doctor, nurse or physician assistant. Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast examination as part of a regular checkup at least every 3 years. After age 40, women should have a breast exam every year.
- Mammogram – this is a targeted x-ray of the breast, with the whole procedure taking no more than 20 minutes in total. Women aged 40 and older should have a screening mammogram every year and should keep doing so for as long as they are in good health.
- Breast self-examination – being aware of how your own breasts look and feel, means you are likely to notice any changes that might take place, so regular self-examination is an excellent option for women starting in their 20s. Your doctor or nurse can help check your method to make sure you are doing it correctly.
Also one of the most common cancers affecting women and accounts for 4.4% of cancers among Emirati women. This cancer generally grows slowly and when detected early and treated properly, has a 100% cure rate. The most effective detection method for cervical cancer is a pap screening which can identify more than 90% of cervical cancers. Up to the age of 30, women should have a pap smear every three years. After the age of 30, an interval of 2 years between pap smears is recommended.
The most effective prevention against cervical cancer is the anti-HPV vaccine, which has rendered this particular cancer 100% avoidable if received earlier enough.
This is the most common of all human cancers (in UAE it accounts for 4.4% of all cancers) with three major types: basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and melanoma. Skin cancer is also usually 100% treatable. The vast majority of skin cancers are BCCs or SCCs. While malignant, these are unlikely to spread to other parts of the body, but if not treated early, may be locally disfiguring. A small but significant number of skin cancers are malignant melanomas, a highly aggressive cancer that tends to spread to other parts of the body. These cancers may be fatal if not treated early.
It is important to get to know your skin and to look out for any changes. In particular, take notice of moles and any dark patches on skin that change in size, shape or colour over weeks or months in adult life. The ABCD rule is particularly helpful:
Asymmetry – the two halves of a mole do not look the same
Border – the edges of a mole are irregular, blurred or jagged
Colour – the colour of a mole is uneven, with more than one shade
Diameter – your mole is wider than 6mm in diameter (the size of a pencil eraser)
Other possible signs of skin cancers include a new growth or sore that won’t heal; a spot, mole or sore that itches or hurts; or a mole that bleeds, crusts or scabs. If you are concerned about any skin changes, visit your doctor without delay.
This is one of the most common male cancers, representing 3.6% of all cancers in the UAE, and rising to 4.6% of cancer cases among UAE Nationals. If found early while still confined to the prostate gland itself, has an excellent 95% cure rate. Often prostate cancer doesn’t have any symptoms, but when they do occur they may include:
- Urinating frequently
- Difficult or painful urination or ejaculation
- A feeling that the bladder has not completely emptied
- Blood in urine or semen
- Disturbed sleep because of the need to urinate
It’s important to be aware that a number of non-cancerous medical conditions may also cause these symptoms, for example, infection or benign prostate enlargement, but they should always be investigated.
There are several methods to check for the presence of prostate cancer. The simplest is the digital rectal examination which is done by a doctor, in which a gloved finger is inserted into the rectum, through which an enlarged prostate can be felt. Blood tests are the next step - prostate cancers cause the levels of certain chemicals and tumor markers in the blood to rise. More sophisticated tests include the use of ultrasound scans, and x-rays.
This cancer is the one most common in young men between the ages of 15 and 45. A highly treatable condition affecting either one or both testicles, men are urged to check for the warning signs of cancer so that treatment can begin as soon as possible. Testicular lumps, heavy discomfort in the groin area or pain in the scrotum are the most common symptoms.
Regular testicular self-examinations have been shown to lead to early cancer diagnoses and FOCP advocates these practices be taught at school age.
Diagnosis is generally conducted through ultrasound, and blood tests to measure higher than normal levels of certain chemicals and tumor markers. If a tumour is found, cancer is presumed as most tumours in the testicle are malignant. However, the only certain way to correctly diagnose is to remove the testicle surgically and send samples for analysis. If the cancer hasn’t spread, further treatment may not be necessary after surgery.
Also known as bowel cancer, this is one of the most common cancers in the world and with early diagnosis, it’s one of the most treatable. In UAE it accounts for 11% of all cancers. Affecting the lower part of the digestive system – the large bowel and the rectum – this cancer is rare in people under 40. Affecting men and women equally, almost 85% of cases are diagnosed in over 65-year olds. Colo-rectal cancer isn’t easy to treat, mainly because its detection is often after it has spread beyond the bowel, but estimates suggest that nine out of 10 cases can be successfully treated if detected early. Survival has doubled over the past 30 years because of early diagnosis. It is important to be aware of the following symptoms, and to seek medical attention, particularly if they persist for longer than a couple of weeks:
- Blood flecks in stools, particularly if the blood is dark or plum-coloured
- A change in regular bowel habits, such as constipation or diarrhea, that lasts for a fortnight or more
- A feeling that you need to empty your bowels even if you’ve just been to the toilet
- Abdominal pain or discomfort that lasts for two weeks or more
- Unexplained weight loss
- Tiredness, dizziness or breathlessness, caused by anaemia from microscopic bleeding from the bowel
The most common screening procedures for colo-rectal cancer are:
- Fecal occult blood test (FOBT) – used to detect hidden blood in stools, and recommended as an annual test for men and women over the age of 50.
- Colonoscopy – a test that checks the upper and lower parts of the colon with a thin, illuminated tube, and recommended for men and women 50 years and older, every 10 years.