The average time between when the initial genetic and cellular changes leading to the development of a cancer occur and the emergence of symptoms related to a tumour is estimated to be as long as 15 to 20 years. During this pre-clinical phase of the development of a cancer, the primary tumour doubles in size as many as 30 times, until it begins to invade and destroy local tissues and organs. It is at this time that clinical symptoms of the tumour become apparent, caused by impairment of the function of normal tissues.35
As treatment can be more effective when cancer is found early, Cancer Council Australia recommends that individuals get to know their own body and to keep an eye out for any unusual changes such as:36
- lumpiness or a thickened area in breasts, any changes in the shape or colour of your breasts, unusual nipple discharge, a nipple that turns inwards (if it hasn't always been that way) or any unusual pain
- a lump in the neck, armpit or anywhere else in the body
- sores or ulcers that don't heal
- coughs or hoarseness that won't go away or coughing up blood
- changes in toilet habits that last more than two weeks; blood in a bowel motion
- new moles or skin spots, or ones that have changed shape, size or colour, or that bleed
- unusual vaginal discharge or bleeding
- unexplained weight loss.
The detection of preclinical signs of some cancers, such as breast, colorectal and cervical cancers, has given rise to highly effective screening programs that reduce the morbidity and mortality associated with these diseases. More often, however, the presence of worrisome signs and symptoms prompts a visit to a health care professional, in turn leading to diagnosis of a cancer.37-39
Identify current Australian health initiatives and resources to educate the community and individuals about the signs of cancer.
As an SCN, describe how you can promote the early detection of cancer.