Cancer patients whose condition is detected early should not be subjected to chemotherapy or radiotherapy, researchers have warned.
Instead, such patients should go for constant check-ups to monitor the growth of the cancerous cells.
Researchers based at Dan-Farber Cancer Institute and Massachusetts General Hospital in the United States have warned of risk in rushing to treat suspected cancers cells yet they are not life threatening.
An example of this are the abnormal cells inside women’s milk duct which are usually misinterpreted or misdiagnosed as breast cancer.
However, as reported by CommonHealth, a health radio site based in Boston, Massachusetts that published the researchers’ findings on January 9, these cells at that stage do not yet fit the definition of being cancerous.
The downside is that most patients with this condition are being treated for cancer using surgery, radiation and hormonal therapy. This, however, has been blamed on doctors who, upon discovery of these cells, cannot tell for sure if they will turn cancerous or not. Nevertheless, they prescribe full breast cancer treatment.
But Dr Ann Patridge from Dan Farber Cancer Institute noted that not all cancers are fatal.
“In my area of breast cancer, the vast majority of women will live through and beyond their disease long-term,” said Patridge, adding that any treatment for patients who do not need it is just 'too much'.
She noted that a challenge facing doctors is prescribing the right treatment and they have to tread carefully with every patient so that the remedy does not turn out to be worse than the disease.
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“If we can spare people chemotherapy and the associated side effects, both in the short and the long term, that’s a win-win,” she said.
Her view was supported by Dr Michael Barry from Massachusetts General Hospital, who said it always appears risky for patients to choose check-ups over treatment for early cancers.
In Kenya, cancer kills an estimated 27,000 people every year and about 39,000 new cases are reported annually, according to Kenya Network of Cancer Association.
Dr Catherine Nyongesa of Texas Cancer Centre told The Standard that breast and cervical cancer (among women) and prostate cancer in men are the commonest.
And while diagnosis and access to treatment appears to be the most burdening task due to the related high cost of treatment, a majority of patients in Kenya usually have their cancers detected late, most at stage four.
This gives them no choice but to go through the extreme treatment models that may include surgery to remove the tumours or amputations.
“Cancer can mimic other diseases. It needs a doctor to have a very high index of suspicion. Are our doctors learned enough to detect it? Yes. Our doctors are well trained,” said Dr Nyongesa.
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Lack of awareness, treatment facilities, inadequate diagnostic facilities, high cost and poverty are some of the reasons why 70 to 80 per cent of cancers in Kenya are diagnosed late.
Though Nyongesa said some progress has been made in treatment, there is more, especially on awareness, that needs to be done.