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News » Increasing awareness of cancer symptoms by doctors and patients may improve diagnosis

Increasing awareness of cancer symptoms by doctors and patients may improve diagnosis

Cancer symptoms often mimic that of other conditions which are generally not serious. Valuable time is often wasted looking for a cause when an early diagnosis often makes a vast difference to survival. Some symptoms of cancer may include back pain, constipation, fatigue or a hoarse voice. Existing cancer screenings often miss tumours or arenít capable of detecting certain cancers. Cancer experts want to educate doctors and patients to be more aware of cancer symptoms and to know when to seek help. The risk of course is that people may seek treatment for every little ailment. For example, colon cancer can cause cramping and fatigue; lung cancer can cause coughing and chest pain; and pancreatic cancer can cause abdomen or back pain. All of these symptoms are also common to other benign conditions. The key is to look at the total symptoms, their severity and the onset. For example, vaginal bleeding in a patient over 50 could be as a result of cervical or endometrial cancer; and intestinal problems in a diabetic diagnosed in the last two years could be pancreatic cancer. A series of misdiagnoses in a 43 year old woman over two years may have seriously impacted on her prognosis and certainly required more aggressive treatment. She initially complained of mild chest pains when breathing but an x-ray showed no problems. Episodes of sharp pain were treated with Advil. Fatigue, bloating and eventually severe abdominal pain led her to seek emergency treatment where she was misdiagnosed with inflammation of the digestive tract. Her husband insisted on a CT scan which finally indicated advance ovarian cancer. She later realized that other symptoms she had experienced (spotting between periods, longer periods, frequent urination and lower back pain) but not mentioned were also related. To emphasise this point, the National Cancer Institute pointed out that in1995-2000 only 8% of pancreatic cancer patients were diagnosed in early stages, 39% of colorectal cancer patients, 19% of ovarian cancer patients, 34% of oral cancer patients and 16% of lung cancer patients. Dentists are also harmonizing with the Oral Cancer Foundation to become more aware of cancer symptoms such as lesions they may observe during oral treatment.

Source: summary of medical news story as reported by The Wall Street Journal

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About: Increasing awareness of cancer symptoms by doctors and patients may improve diagnosis

Date: 24 November 2004

Source: The Wall Street Journal


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