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World Cancer Day 2024: Here's How Early Detection Can Help Save Lives

Cancer screening leads to early diagnosis of cancer with a consequent increase in the survival of patients.

World Cancer Day 2024: Heres How Early Detection Can Help Save Lives

The success of early detection heavily relies on addressing the risk factors and lifestyle modifications

When a patient hears a diagnosis of cancer, fear is one of the first emotions that arises. A major health concern worldwide, cancer is today showing an increasing incidence in India.

Cancer screening leads to early diagnosis of cancer with a consequent increase in the survival of patients. In India, the top 3 cancers are breast cancer, oral cancer and cervix cancer. All three cancers are amenable to screening and early detection.

Oral cancer screening can be done with a simple visual examination of the oral cavity. Any red or white patch, no healing ulcer, and difficulty in swallowing and ingestion are some of the signs of oral precancer and cancer. Cervical cancer is the second most prevalent cancer in India and accounts for nearly one-fourth of the world's cervical cancer deaths. The staggering figure underscores the critical need for early screening and prevention measures as cervical cancer is largely preventable. Regular screening tests, such as HPV tests can help in identifying precancerous conditions or the presence of the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a major risk factor for cervical cancer. Early diagnosis and treatment can effectively prevent cervical cancer from developing or progressing further.

Coming to breast cancer, early detection significantly increases the chances of successful treatment and survival. When breast cancer is detected early in the localized stage, the 5-year relative survival rate is 98%. Mammograms are x-rays that use low radiation doses and are the gold standard for breast cancer screening in women over the age of 40. Regular self-examinations and clinical breast exams also play a crucial role in identifying any unusual changes at an early stage.

Men over the age of 50 should also undergo annual screening for cancer, especially prostate cancer and colon cancer. Prostate cancer can be detected by a routine prostate exam or a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test that measures the level of PSA in your blood.

A National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) in the US showed a statistically significant reduction of 20% in mortality in cases of lung cancer. The Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial (PLCO) observed a statistically significant 26% reduction in colorectal cancer mortality, underscoring the importance of regular screening for the dreaded disease. Today advances in medical technology allow the detection of cancer at an early stage.

Technological innovations are transforming cancer screening with rapid evolution in the landscape of cancer detection. These precise and less invasive methods range from sophisticated imaging techniques and molecular diagnostics to the use of artificial intelligence and liquid biopsies hold a lot of potential in bringing precision medicine to the forefront for overall cancer care management.

Despite these advances, the battle against cancer remains a challenging one. The success of early detection and screening programs heavily relies on awareness and accessibility, addressing the risk factors and lifestyle modifications. Individuals must be informed about the importance of regular screening, especially for those at higher risk due to family history, age, or lifestyle factors (tobacco, arecanut, alcohol use, obesity).

Screening services must be made more accessible and affordable, ensuring that everyone, regardless of their socioeconomic status, has the opportunity to benefit from early detection. Utilizing local context-specific communication messaging on early warning signs can increase awareness and prompt a call to action. Screening camps and initiatives with community-level efforts, especially in rural and underserved areas, can spread awareness of cancer prevention and help in early detection. Also, it is necessary to close the care gap by ensuring those who are detected early seek prompt referral for detection and further follow-up care. Hence the theme for World Cancer Day is "Closing the Care Gap"

This World Cancer Day, let us resolve to reduce the burden of cancer by making early detection the cornerstone of our approach to cancer prevention. Remember, when it comes to fighting cancer, every moment counts!

(Dr Kunal Oswal, BDS, MPH, MHM, Screening and Early Detection at Karkinos Healthcare)

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