The truth is that you don’t need to panic, but you shouldn’t assume these signs are ‘nothing,’ either. It is noted that with a population of 35 million Uganda has only 20 oncologists while the demand for these experts has grown in large numbers due to the steady growth of the cancer malady in the population with an annual load of more than 60,000 new cases in Uganda alone. These patients and many more that never get to be accessed by the health systems, need diagnostics, therapeutic and rehabilitative services and robust scientific research to control the cancer epidemic.
According to research, majority of the people never bother about cancer and not even going for screening when things go wrong but it is by experts that cancer can be easily treated in its early stages before spreading to other body parts.
There several types of cancer but these are some of the common ones in Uganda. Breast cancer (A cancer that forms in the cells of the breasts.), Prostate cancer (A cancer in a man’s prostate, a small walnut-sized gland that produces seminal fluid.), Basal cell cancer (A type of skin cancer that begins in the basal cells.) Melanoma (The most serious type of skin cancer), Colon cancer (A cancer of the colon or rectum, located at the digestive tract’s lower end.) Lung cancer (A cancer that begins in the lungs and most often occurs in people who smoke), Leukemia (A cancer of blood-forming tissues, hindering the body’s ability to fight infection.) Lymphoma (A cancer of the lymphatic system) among others.
When Carol Nampijja 35 a cancer survivor, found a lump (tumor) in her right breast, she knew something was wrong. Despite a normal mammogram 2 months earlier and recent breast exams by her internist and gynecologist, who found nothing erroneous, regardless of this, got a feeling of seeing another expert because the size tumor was not that big but it worried her. When she visited Nakasero hospital, the suspicions turned out to be correct when a biopsy revealed she had stage 2 breast cancer. Since this was discovered at an early stage, she was able to go through the right medication and now she is cancer free.
It is said that not all signs and suspicions mean cancer, but one doesn’t need to be adamant when it comes to health matters. Going for regular checkups and screening tests such as Pap smears and mammograms, as well as knowing your own body, are all crucial for good health, watching your diet among others need not to be taken for granted. Here are some of the 10 things you should never go silent about!
- Breast Changes
If you feel a lump (tumor), you shouldn’t ignore it, even if your mammogram is normal. If your nipple gets scaly or starts flaking, that could indicate Paget’s disease of the nipple, which is linked to an underlying cancer in about 95% of cases. Any milky or bloody nipple discharge should also be checked out.
Dimpling of the skin over the breast, particularly if it looks like the skin on an orange, is something to be worried about. Such dimpling is most often linked to inflammatory breast cancer, a rare, usually aggressive cancer characterized also by swollen, hot, red breasts.
- Irregular Bleeding
Once you hit menopause (defined as 12 months without a period), any postmenopausal bleeding is a warning sign. Any bleeding, staining, little drops on your underwear, or big clots are abnormal and should be immediately investigated. Such bleeding could indicate something as benign as an endometrial polyp or something more serious like endometrial or cervical cancer. Bleeding that is unusual for you — spotting outside of your normal menstrual cycle or heavier periods — should be looked into, Never sit and relax!
- Rectal Bleeding
Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in women. One of the hallmarks is rectal bleeding, which many people link to hemorrhoids, the most common cause. “But it’s not always that, Red or dark blood in your stool warrants a visit to your doctor, experts say.
A foul or smelly vaginal discharge could be a symptom of cervical cancer. The discharge may contain blood and may occur between periods or after menopause. It’s best not to self-treat a discharge with over-the-counter medications. An exam is necessary to determine if the discharge is due to an infection or something more serious.
Ovarian cancer is the No. 1 killer of all the reproductive-organ cancers. For years it’s been known by the misnomer of the silent killer, and we really need to put that aside. Ovarian cancer clearly has symptoms.”
The four most frequent are:
- feeling that you’re getting full earlier than you typically would when eating
- changing bowel or bladder habits, such as urinating more frequently
- low back or pelvic pain
It’s not unusual to have one or two of these symptoms occasionally, particularly after a big meal. But if you have two or more symptoms daily for more than 2 weeks, call your doctor. Expect a pelvic exam, transvaginal sonogram, and perhaps a blood test to check for cancerous cells.
- Unexplained Weight Gain or Loss
Gaining excess weight month to month, especially if you usually maintain a normal weight and watch what you eat, can be due to a buildup of fluid in the belly related to ovarian cancer and warrants a checkup with your doctor, she says. “Unexplained weight loss of 10Kgs or more “may be the first sign of cancer,” the American Cancer Society says, and is most often linked to pancreatic, stomach, esophagus, or lung cancer. But weight loss in women is often caused by a hyperactive thyroid, Expect your doctor to order a thyroid test first to check for this common disease.
- Persistent Cough
Any persistent cough – one that lasts more than 2 or 3 weeks and is not due to an allergy or upper respiratory infection, or one that produces blood – needs to be checked by your doctor. If your cough may be caused by smoking or being exposed to secondhand smoke, get it checked out. Smoking is the number one cancer killer of women and men.
You don’t have to be a smoker to be at risk. The majority of lung cancers that nonsmokers get also occur in women. Expect your doctor to order a chest X-ray and perhaps a CT scan.
- Change in Lymph Nodes
It is further revealed that if you feel hard lymph nodes in your neck or under your arm, you should be seen by a doctor. Swollen, firm lymph nodes are often caused by an infection. But lymphoma or lung, breast, head, or neck cancer that has spread can also show up as an enlarged lymph node. Expect a physical exam and possibly a biopsy.
The American Cancer Society defines fatigue as “extreme tiredness that does not get better with rest.” So if you’re often fatigued, see your doctor. Leukemia, colon, or stomach cancer which can cause blood loss, can result in fatigue. Fatigue can be a serious problem and it’s easy to ignore. Your doctor will most likely do a physical exam and order blood tests to check your thyroid and rule out a thyroid condition, she says.
- Skin Changes
Keep an eye on any changes you notice on your skin all over your body, and call your doctor right away if anything concerns you.
Sores in the mouth that don’t heal – especially if you smoke or drink alcohol -may be signs of oral cancer and should be checked by your doctor.
Note any sores or irritated skin in the vaginal area. A non-healing vulvar lesion could be a sign of vulvar cancer.
Changes in moles or pigmented lesions on the vulva can also point to cancer.
Watch for all of these symptoms, but remember that it’s important to be on the alert for physical changes, “we don’t want to [cause] too much alarm.
If you notice something different about your body, get it checked out. Most likely it’s not cancer, but if it is, “cancer is treatable, often it’s curable, and clearly having a diagnosis earlier will allow you to have the most benefit possible from current health care advances and to live as full a life as prior to a diagnosis.” Says an expert from the Uganda Cancer Institute.