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How to answer this life-saving question: ‘Do I have cancer?’

Key takeaways:

  • In 2020, 1,806,590 new cancer cases were projected to have occurred in the United States.
  • There are an estimated 606,520 cancer deaths in 2020.
  • Cancer is often symptomatic at a late stage and asymptomatic in the earlier stages.
  • Cancer is more likely to be cured when it’s diagnosed at an early stage.
  • More than 100,000 lives can be saved every year thanks to cancer screening.

“Do I have cancer?” is a complex question because cancer is a complex disease. In fact, cancer is not really a single disease – we use cancer to describe a disease that exists in more than 100 different variations. At a cellular and molecular level, cancer is a dysregulation of cell proliferation.

Normally, cells have a life cycle that is rigorously regulated. Cells can proliferate or differentiate in specific types of cells, such as hepatocytes for the liver, when needed. Sometimes, abnormal mutations of the  DNA in the cells get stuck in the proliferation phase of the cycle. The cells then replicate indefinitely and form a growing tumor.

Several factors could cause abnormal DNA mutations, including:

  • Ionizing radiation such as X-rays, radioactivity, UVs
  • Chemicals like benzene, beryllium, asbestos, vinyl chloride, and arsenic
  • Viruses like papillomavirus (HPV)

Tumors are generally harmful, as they grow and disturb the body’s normal functions. The organs near the tumor are physically pushed; blood vessels and nerves could be pinched; this generally results in pain

The more the tumor grows, the more aggressive the cancer becomes, and the higher its risk of spreading to other parts of the body is. Metastasis, i.e. single cancerous cells making it into the blood flow, will attach to tissue in distant organs and start forming tumors. Metastatic cancer is incredibly deadly, with a less than 20% survival rate over five years.

Do I have cancer?

When you ask yourself, “Do I have cancer?” the answer is we all may have had mutated cells that could have become cancer at some point in our life. But our immune system generally does a good job fighting them. Our immune system takes care of cancerous cells in the background of our daily lives.

Unfortunately, we are not all equal when it comes to our risk of developing cancer. Some of us inherit genes, like BRCA mutations in breast or ovarian cancer, that increase the risk of cancer. However, we can all reduce our risk for cancer by being proactive. And by far, the most important measure to protect against cancer is early detection.

As a matter of fact, cancer screening could save more than 100,000 American lives every year, according to the CDC. This only takes into consideration lung, breast, rectal, and colon cancer.

One could imagine the number of lives spared if we rigorously screened for all types of cancer.

How can I prevent cancer?

Do I have cancer: Middle aged woman with eyeglasses smiling and looking straight ahead

There are several ways to prevent cancer. To start, get physical exercise, eat a balanced diet, and, most importantly, quit smoking. Second, be proactive and screen for cancer on a regular basis and discuss the results with your doctor.

It is important to recognize early signs of cancer, such as difficulty breathing, abnormal pain that’s not going away, or a persistent swelling. But you don’t need to wait for signs or symptoms of cancer to get a screening.

At Ezra, we provide different imaging tools to detect potential abnormalities in your body. For instance, we offer a full-body MRI. Our service will screen 14 organs for cancer in about an hour.

Signs and symptoms of cancer.

Multiple signs could raise suspicions that you might have cancer. you notice anything unusual, we recommend you speak to your doctor immediately. It is important to differentiate symptoms from signs of cancer.

  • A sign is a manifestation of a disease that you or a doctor can notice.
  • A symptom is a manifestation of the disease that is felt by the person who has the disease or noticed by a medical professional.

Cancer is a complex disease that can affect multiple organs. The signs and symptoms of cancer will depend on the locations and how their growth affects the surrounding tissues.

Signs and symptoms of cancer can be caused by the growing tumor’s physical pressure on the organs, an unusual release of the cancer cells’ molecules, and metastasis, i.e., when aggressive cancer cells disseminate from the primary tumor to distant organs.

What are the signs and symptoms of cancer?

Illustration of a head with a brain on a yellow background

Signs of cancer depend on the affected organ. Signs and symptoms can also be similar for different types of cancers. Keep in mind that one sign or one symptom alone does not mean cancer.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of signs and symptoms:

  • Unusual and recurrent coughing, hoarseness, shortness of breath could be signs of generic lung infection but also a sign of lung cancer.
  • The appearance of breast lumps and/or inflated lymph nodes under your armpit could be signs of breast cancer.
  • Lumps on testicles could be a sign of testicular cancer.
  • Changes in bowel habits, constipation, indigestion, and unexplained weight loss may be warning signs for general health issues as well as common manifestations of cancers.
  • Pancreatic cancer is a silent cancer. Symptoms appear at a late stage of the pathology. Most often, pancreatic cancer is diagnosed by accident when undergoing an abdominal X-ray exam. Cysts detected on the pancreas could be cancerous. A growing tumor on the pancreas could pressure surrounding organs and even trigger back pain, belly pain, and bloating.
  • Troubles of urination such as blockade and frequent need of peeing are synonymous with urethra-related issues. It could be linked to inflammation or infection and prostate cancer, bladder cancer, or kidney cancer.
  • Skin changes such as darkening, irregularly shaped moles and warts, itching, and unusual bleeding are signs and symptoms of skin cancer like melanoma. Indeed, those could also be benign. Seek medical check-ups with your doctor.
  • Skin changes such as yellowing, or jaundice, would direct the medical diagnosis toward hepatobiliary issues. This could be a warning sign of liver cancer. Additionally, metastasis tends to land and proliferate in the liver, which means it could be a late-stage cancer symptom.
  • For women, long-lasting and post-menopause vaginal bleeding should be symptoms of ovarian cancer. A growing tumor on the ovaries could also trigger back pain, pelvic pain, and bloating.
  • Besides, when experiencing nightmares, night sweats could be signs of blood cancer like lymphoma and leukemia.

As you may have noticed, the symptoms and signs of cancer listed above are quite general and could also be attributed to other pathologies. This makes the diagnosis of cancer a complex task for health care professionals.

Cancer treatments are getting more efficient thanks to the tremendous work in cancer research. That said, despite the progress, late-stage cancer treatment such as  chemotherapy is still unbearable for many patients, so early detection is important.

We should all make an effort to learn about our risk of developing cancer. Health agencies like the American Cancer Society and National Cancer Institute are making cancer awareness a priority by connecting with patients and doctors, and at Ezra, we have developed a Cancer Risk Assessment to help you understand your risk for cancer.

Ezra can support you in answering the question ‘Do I have cancer?’

Do I have cancer: Man with eyeglasses smiling and looking straight ahead

If you are curious about your risk of developing cancer, take the Ezra questionnaire. In five minutes, you will have a better idea of whether you may encounter cancer in your life.

Even though your cancer risk is low, any health care professionals will tell you that prevention is better than treatment. Regular checkups and cancer screenings are a proven way to prevent cancer.

By choosing Ezra, you are prioritizing your health. You are putting all the chances on your side to stay healthy. Your future self will thank you.

For instance, we offer a full-body MRI exam. With this service, 14 different organs are screened for cancer in less than an hour. It is crucial to ask yourself, “Do I have cancer?” and get screened for cancer on a regular basis. Ezra is a great way to get started in your cancer prevention journey. Book your cancer screening appointment now.