“Do I Have Cancer?” And Other Commonly Googled Cancer Questions
By: Divya Kilikar
Published On: March 19, 2018
In 2012, there were 14.1 million people around the world who were looked in the eye and told that they had cancer. This number is expected to grow by 70% in the next twenty years.
We’re all talking about cancer. We’re busy building a buzz around hashtags to create awareness (#SmearForSmear, anyone?), we’re wearing pink and teal ribbons and talking about empowering survivors of the disease.
We think we know cancer, but do we really?
There is unlimited information on the internet about the cancer disease. Maybe that’s precisely the problem. The American Cancer Society makes a very good point - much of the information the internet has to offer isn’t based on actual scientific research. Those of us looking to learn about the cancer disease must wade through a sea of assumptions, personal experiences and clickbait articles to find genuine information.
We’re all guilty of Googling random signs our body throws at us and aren’t even surprised at what the internet has to say.
The backache that probably comes from years of slouching at a desk? Cancer.
The fatigue you’re experiencing thanks to a sedentary lifestyle and poor diet? Cancer.
The migraine that’s surely a result of stress? Brain cancer.
Somehow, despite all the buzz about being aware, about getting tested early and emotional survivor stories, why is the disease itself still in the dark?
It’s great that more of us are getting involved in the fight against one of the world’s biggest killer, but we can’t beat the enemy without knowing it inside out. So if you’re hoping to get your hands dirty and help end the epidemic like we are, let’s get to know cancer better!
The obvious questions
What is cancer?
When a group of abnormal cells grow uncontrollably, the condition is called cancer and the cells form a tumour. The reasons behind this growth are not fully understood.
What makes cancer dangerous?
These fast-breeding cells can quickly spread to neighbouring tissues and organs, making the process of removing them more tedious. Moreover, these cells resemble normal human cells and can multiply up to a billion in number before the tumour is big enough to be detected. This makes the disease difficult to diagnose in the initial stages.
How does cancer start?
Unfortunately, we can simply be born with the tendency to develop the cancer disease. The second cause can be any kind of exterior trigger, like environmental toxins, exposure to the sun, tobacco and certain chemicals that may be present in beauty products, plastics and a number of other items you may use regularly.
The not-so-obvious questions
How does cancer show on the body?
As the tumour grows, it begins to press on organs and nerves around, causing pain and other conditions to arise. For example, cancer in the pancreas can block the flow of bile and lead to jaundice.
Moreover, since the cells multiply so quickly, they take up much of the body’s energy, leading to constant fatigue, weight loss and severe fevers.
Cancer can also release substances into the bloodstream that can cause other arbitrary conditions like blood clots or lower calcium levels, making the patient dizzy or weak.
By the time these symptoms show, the cancer has probably already reached an advanced stage.
How many types of cancer are there?
There are more than a hundred! The most commonly recorded cases are those of the skin, lung, breast and prostate.
Why does the body respond so terribly to cancer treatment?
Cancer cells are not very different from human cells, which means two things happen: the first is that cancer cells remain unaffected by antibiotics, which are great for diseases borne from bacteria and virus.
The second is that the treatment that kills cancer cells, like chemotherapy and radiation therapy, also has considerable effect on human cells, resulting in intense pain, fatigue, hair loss and weight loss.
Cancer as a disease is a vast subject, despite the fact that its many facets elude us. Here are some articles that contain some valuable information!
Mumbai’s Kokilaben Hospital wrote a short but highly informative piece on symptoms to look for and prevention.
Manipal Hospitals charted out 9 steps one could take to keep lung cancer, one of the most common types, at bay.
Most of us can’t help the sedentary lifestyle we follow… or can we? Read how Portea thinks how 7 changes in lifestyle can significantly lower your risk of developing the cancer disease.
The questions we should be asking...
How can we prevent cancer?
While there’s no surefire way to avoid developing cancer, you can certainly take steps to reduce the risk. Some of them are:
- Eat a healthy diet. Limit your consumption of processed meats and make sure to consume lots of fruits and vegetables.
- Keep yourself fit with regular exercise.
- Sun exposure is a known cause, so avoid the midday sun and don’t skimp on sunscreen.
- Get yourself immunized against diseases like HPV and Hepatitis B. Contracting these diseases will heighten your chances of developing cancer.
And the most important of all...
Get yourself checked regularly. Early detection paves the way to successful recovery.
What kind of tests should we be taking?
If there’s a history of cancer in your family, you can consider speaking to a doctor about genetic testing to figure out what kind of cancer you could be at risk of developing. Women aged 21 and above are strongly recommended to get two tests done regularly: a pap smear every three years to detect cervical cancer and a mammogram to detect breast cancer.
You can look for signs at home!
- Start looking for changes in your skin. Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed and early symptoms include changes in the colour of your skin.
- Are you noticing changes in your bowel/bladder movements? These can point out to early stages of the disease as well.
- Unexplained weight loss (of 4 kg or more) can be a sign that your stomach, oesophagus, lung or pancreas may be affected.
- If you contract common illnesses, see if you feel better after resting. If your cough, cold or fever refuses to go away, this could be a good time to get tested.
Remember: don’t ever self-diagnose.
Even if you face a number of these symptoms, you still may not have cancer. These tests are simply a way to look for warnings to tell if you need to get tested by a doctor or not.
How much does cancer treatment cost?
India’s medical tourism is teeming. Yet, most Indians themselves can’t afford the heavy costs of cancer treatment. A single chemotherapy cycle can cost Rs 70,000 on average. A radiation therapy package can cost Rs 3 lakh while an organ transplant can estimate up to Rs 20 lakh.
A thing or two about cancer crowdfunding
In any given year, 7 lakh Indians are diagnosed with cancer and over 5.5 lakh succumb to the disease. Those that don’t take on the crippling load of medical treatment costs (and slip into debt) on their own turn to crowdfunding to save them. While Indian crowdfunding platforms raise crores every year to support a large variety of causes (personal, nonprofit, community, etc), 50% of funds raised are for medical causes.
A majority of the patients that are saving themselves from a colossal financial burden through crowdfunding platforms are those of cancer.
Diagnosis of the disease alone can cost more than what many rural Indian households earn in a full month. Moreover, consultation charges, several sessions of chemotherapy, the possibility of an organ transplant, hospital stay are some of the costs patients are looking at.
More often than not, these patients have a large network of friends, family and colleagues that is willing to pitch in to their recovery. Crowdfunding platforms have been able to provide the ideal opportunity for them to do so countless times in the past...
Suresh was able to save his baby daughter from the clutches of Leukemia.
In just over a week, Shreyansh’s father collected twice the funds he had hoped to raise to afford his recovery from Neuroblastoma.
Learn more about how crowdfunding works to begin saving a loved one’s life and pay for their cancer treatment!