| LEARNING ABOUT CANCER
No one plans to be a cancer carer. It just happens.
At the early stage, the news that a friend, spouse, child or relative has cancer comes as a
surprise. It may take time to sink in as you go through an emotional upheaval Ė denial,
anger, regret and acceptance.
But you can plan for the life changes as you adjust to your new role as a carer. The first
step is being informed. The more informed you are on the disease, the better you can
care for your relative or friend. The better equipped youíll be to deal with your own
emotions and feelings.
WHAT IS CANCER?
Very simply, cancer is the growth of abnormal cells in the
Our body normally creates new cells to replace old ones.
Specific cells are created for specific functions.
Cancer happens when this natural process is disrupted and
abnormal cells are produced. With time, the number of
abnormal cells increases forming into lumps (tumours) which
displaces normal cells. This eventually disrupts normal cell
production and body functions.
There are over two hundred types of cancer, each is distinctive,
with its own characteristics and symptoms and which body
part it afflicts.
HOW DOES IT HAPPEN?
Unless the person has been exposed to toxic chemicals or
radiation, there is no exact cause as to why someone gets
cancer. Till today, doctors are still trying to find out why
cancer occurs in the body.
Certain factors such as age, gender, family history
and an unhealthy lifestyle may make a person more
susceptible to the disease. But because cancer comes
in so many forms and can start from various parts
of the body, it can strike people of all ages, ethnic
groups and lifestyles.
There is hope.
There have been many stories of people who thanks to early
detection, proper medical treatment and good care, coupled
with a positive mental attitude have recovered from cancer.
They now lead normal lives with some even going back to
their pre-cancer lifestyles.
There is always a fighting chance against cancer. And as a
carer, you can make a big difference to your loved one.
WHAT IS CANCER SCREENING?
Screening basically means going for tests that will detect signs
of cancer. There are different screening methods for different
In Malaysia, you can be screened for breast, cervical and
bowel cancer. There are established procedures for this in
government and private medical hospitals. Screening for other
types of cancer is also being developed across the world.
Who Should Go For Screening?
The following cancer screening guidelines are recommended
for those people at average risk for cancer (unless otherwise
specified) and without any specific symptoms. People who
are at increased risk for certain cancers may need to follow
a different screening schedule, such as starting at an earlier
age or being screened more often. Those with symptoms
that could be related to cancer should see their doctor right
For people aged 20 or older having periodic health exams,
cancer-related checkups should include health counselling,
and depending on a personís age and gender, might include
exams for cancers of the thyroid, oral cavity, skin, lymph
nodes, testes, and ovaries, as well as for some non-malignant
As a carer, if the person youíre looking after is a family member
(parent, child, sibling or blood relative), you should seriously
consider screening as the family history may mean you have a
higher risk of getting cancer.
Screening Saves Lives
Early detection through screening has saved many lives.
If you canít thwart cancer, the next best thing you can do to
protect your health is to detect it early. Recognizing symptoms,
getting regular check-ups, and performing self-exams are just
a few ways you can do this. Early detection means the cancer
is found at a stage when it is still curable or is still controllable.
Many patients who discovered their cancers early have made
full recoveries and go on to lead normal healthy lives.
It is vital that people go for screening. Consult your doctor if
you are not sure about whether or how often you should go
If I am a woman, what screening tests should I
To help find breast cancer early, you should begin by checking
your breasts for lumps every month, beginning at about age
20. Doctors can teach you how to check your breasts on your
own. You should also have your doctor check your breasts
every 1 to 2 years beginning when youíre 30 and you should
have a mammogram every 1 to 2 years beginning at age 40.
If you have risk factors for breast cancer, such as a family
history, your doctor may want you to have mammograms
more often or start having them sooner.
To help find cervical cancer early, have regular Pap smears.
During a Pap smear, your doctor takes a sample of cells from
your cervix to be tested. You should have your first Pap smear
when you start having sex or by age 18. Continue having
a Pap smear once a year until youíve had at least 3 normal
ones. After this, you should have a Pap smear at least every
3 years, unless your doctor suggests that you need one more
often. You should keep having Pap smears throughout your
life, even after menopause.
If I am a man, what screening tests should I have?
To help find prostate cancer early, first talk to your doctor
about your risk. Doctors donít all agree on whether screening
is needed for men who arenít at high risk of prostate cancer.
Your doctor may examine your prostate by putting a gloved,
lubricated finger a few inches into your rectum to feel your
prostate gland. This is called a digital rectal exam. A normal
prostate feels firm and rubbery. If there are hard spots on the
prostate, your doctor may suspect cancer.
To help find testicular cancer early, examine your testicles on
a routine basis. If you find anything unusual during a selfexam
(like a lump or swelling), see your doctor right away.
The best time to do the exam is during or right after a shower
or a bath. The warm water relaxes the skin on your scrotum
and makes the exam easier. Your doctor can give you more
specific information about checking your testicles.