Should you consider getting screened for cancer?

An estimated 8.9 million people have died from various forms of cancer in 2016. From this number, tracheal, bronchus, and lung cancer claimed the largest number of lives at more than 1.7 million. An estimated 42 million people across the world suffered from different forms of cancer in 2016, according to the World Health Organization.

Diagnostic Laboratory - Aster DM Healthcare

In the Philippines, cancer is the third leading cause of morbidity and mortality after heart and vascular diseases, according to the Department of Health.  About 189 in every 100,000 Filipinos are afflicted with cancer while four Filipinos die of cancer every hour or 96 cancer patients every day.

The DOH found that the most common cancers among Filipino men and women in 2010 were lung, liver, colon/rectum, prostate, stomach, leukemia, breast, cervix, and ovarian cancer. Each type of cancer has symptoms. For example, a cough that does not go away or coughing up blood may be a sign of lung cancer.

In the Philippines, the Hope From Within movement advocates early detection of cancerous cells before symptoms appear or when it is not yet too large and has not yet spread to give treatment a higher chance of success. It focuses on fighting lung cancer which is the top cause of cancer-related deaths among men, and the third for women.

For the other most common cancers such as colon cancer, the signs and symptoms include long-term constipation, diarrhea, and change in the size of the stool or blood in the stool.

Pain when urinating, blood in the urine, or needing to urinate more or less often than the usual can be related to prostate cancer. Abnormal vaginal bleeding could be due to cervical or endometrial (from the lining of the uterus) cancer. Alarmingly, bloody nipple discharge could be a sign of breast cancer.

Indigestion or swallowing problems that don’t go away and unexplained weight loss may be signs of cancer of the stomach.  Ovarian cancer symptoms are bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, trouble eating or feeling full quickly, feeling the need to urinate urgently or often, fatigue, upset stomach or heartburn, back pain, pain during sex and constipation or menstrual changes.

Symptoms of leukemia are weakness, fatigue, shortness of breath when doing basic everyday activities, fever, bone pain, unexplained weight loss, pain or a feeling of fullness below the ribs on the left side due to an enlarged spleen, and night sweats. For liver cancer, the symptoms are pain, especially at the top right of the abdominal area, near the right shoulder blade or in the back, unexplained weight loss, a hard lump under the ribs on the right side of the body, which could be the tumor or a sign that the liver has gotten bigger, and weakness or fatigue.

Early detection of cancer is done through screening or tests which include physical examination, laboratory tests on blood, urine or tissue samples, imaging such as x-ray exam, magnetic resonance imaging, computed tomography scans and gene tests.

Another method is biomarker testing. Biomarkers are molecules that appear in the body when a certain condition is present. A well-known example is the human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG) hormone, which usually signals pregnancy and is often detected using home pregnancy test kits. Another is the prostate-specific antigen (PSA), which is used to diagnose prostate cancer. Biomarker screening is specifically important in the treatment of lung cancer because if a patient is found to have a certain biomarker called PDL-1, that patient becomes ideal for pembrolizumab immunotherapy, which has been proven in clinical trials to drastically reduce side effects, increase the number of patients who respond to treatment, and improve overall survival. Immunotherapy functions by eliminating the use of toxic chemicals to fight cancer cells. Instead, it helps the body’s own immune system recognize and combat cancer cells. Talk to a medical oncologist to know more about cancer testing, biomarker screening, and treatment options available.


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