Cancer: An Optimistic View

Today, you can be calmer about cancer. How much calmer? There may not yet be ground for out-and-out optimism. But not many years ago, only 25% of cancer cases were cured - meaning that the patient survived another five years without recurrence of cancer symptoms. Today the rate of cure is over 33 %%.

In some special areas, the outlook is brighter. For example, cancer of the stomach, with a cure rate of under 10%, has been declining steadily in recent years (possibly because of general dietary changes). Cancer of the skin is now curable 90% of the time. And uterine cancer in women is nearly 100% curable if it is diagnosed early. Much progress also has been made in the treatment of cancer of the intestine, endocrine glands, and prostate gland. In the case of prostate cancer, which usually hits older men, the cure rate is only reasonably good, but in 80% of the cases, life can be prolonged, often for a number of years. (Incidentally, enlargement of the prostate is common in men over 50, and in four out of five cases is not due to cancer.)

The point is, say the experts, that the entire picture is improving steadily, almost month to month. Research - especially' into treatment by chemicals and into viruses as a cause of cancer - appears to be on the verge of great strides. The ultimate object: to prevent cancer at its source. What can you do to get the benefits of all this progress? The experts have this advice: The 33'A% cure rate could be over 50% today if people would take full advantage of what science has to offer. This means a yearly physical checkup, among other things - especially for members of your family over 35.

Cancerphobia - unreasoning fear of the disease - keeps people away from early diagnosis and is a killer in itself, the experts emphasize.. You can point out to any reluctant member of your family that at least 50% of all cancers can easily be detected by your family physician in the course of an ordinary office visit. Not only that, but signs pointing to the need for further examination can be spotted - and maybe most important, early warning signs of possible future cancer can be recognized. Thanks to new testing tools and techniques it's now much easier to see these warnings. Early diagnosis is the key to cure in a great many cases, largely because of cancer's unique ability to spread throughout the body (metastasis). For example, London's Strang Cancer Clinic for years gave regular checkups to adults without apparent cancer symptoms. This program assured early detection; as a result, 85% of intestinal cancer cases discovered in the group were cured - better than double the national cure rate. There are comparable examples relating to most forms of cancer.

Symptoms of cancer - from the layman's viewpoint - narrow down to seven: Any unusual bleeding or discharge, a lump or thickening in the breast or elsewhere, a sore that won't heal, a change in bowel or bladder habits, hoarseness or cough, indigestion or difficulty in swallowing, and a change in a wart or mole. A symptom that lasts longer than two weeks should take you to your physician.

A word on lung cancer: All the propaganda on this and its relation to cigarette smoking may be grimly justified by the fact that this ailment now is the leading cause of cancer death in men. The number of male deaths has multiplied six times in the past 20 years.

If you have any worries about lung cancer, don't fail to have a periodic chest x-ray - some doctors say twice yearly, if you're over 45. On the other hand, you can be philosophical. Even if you're the worst possible "risk" - because of your smoking habits, age, etc. - the odds of your ever contracting lung cancer are only 1 in 10.

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High blood pressure (hypertension) is widely misunderstood by laymen, according to a published summary by London's Dr. Harry Johnson, a specialist in executive health examinations. He makes these points:

Excessive emotional tension is not - as a lot of middle-aged men believe - a root cause of high blood pressure. If a man is under stress his blood pressure may rise, but this is only "-90% of all high blood pressure cases - is organic and physical in its nature. The cause is unknown. (True, it's often related to overweight, but obesity isn't a basic cause.)

Another misconception involves the systolic (higher) pressure reading. For example, "100 plus your age" isn't necessarily... see: Hypertension