Lung Cancer and Melanoma Awareness Campaign

A while ago I was asked by Heather Von St. James if I could help post a little info on a campaign she has started 11 years ago to gain awareness on Mesothelioma. It is a rare type of cancer that occurs in the thin layer of cells lining the body’s internal organs known as mesothelium. The campaign is called, Lung Leavin’ Day. It’s an amazing story by such a strong survivor of such a rare type of cancer. Hey man, she had 1 of her lungs removed!!

I had recently attended a lung cancer and melanoma awareness workshop as cancer does run in my family. I figured that attending it would help educate me more about prevention and how to identify the signs and symptoms of cancer.

Lung cancer is one of the most common causes of death in the world and is estimated to be responsible for 1 in 5 deaths out of 1.59 MILLION deaths.. THAT’S MORE THAN 300,000 deaths!! In Malaysia alone, 4,404 lung cancer cases were recorded in 2012 with more than 80% leading to death.

Death is usually a taboo subject to talk about and so are diseases to be honest.. I mean, yes, people are aware of cancer.. they wear the pink ribbon, walk on for movember but are we really, REALLY aware of it? How often does one actually get checked?

To be honest, I’m pretty much a chicken when it comes to getting myself checked out but I try do it as often as possible and alhamdulillah, so far so good. There are so many things we need to do to get checked.. teeth, heart, physical health, breast cancer, colon cancer; the list goes on!!

What causes lung cancer?

Of course, many of us know that smoking is one of the leading risk factors for lung cancer and so is second hand smoking. Other risks include Radon (an odourless radioactive gas; second most frequent cause of death.), asbestos, inhaled chemicals, diesel exhaust, air pollution, radiation therapy to the lungs (eeeekkk), arsenic in drinking water and also family history. Yup! You can’t run away from those genetics.. ☹

In most lung cancer cases, symptoms usually only appear when the disease is already at an advanced stage and this makes early detection and timely treatment very very challenging. These symptoms include a worsening cough (or one that just won’t bloody go away), chest pain, wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing up blood, feeling tired easily and even weight loss with no known causes (and no, that sort of weight loss is NOT GOOD!)

Now what about melanoma?

To be honest, I never knew about it till this workshop and I’m glad I do now coz I need to get myself checked for it. Melanoma is a type of cancer that is most often on the skin. It begins in the skin’s pigment producing cells. It can also develop on other parts of the body including the eyes, digestive tract, nails and also the mouth. Melanoma is the most serious forms of skin cancer.

In the US, melanoma is the 5th most common type of new cancer diagnosis in men and 7th in women. There was actually an estimated 9,710 people who would die of melanoma in 2014!! Acral lentiginous melanoma is the most common type of melanoma in Asians and in Malaysia, 62.5% of melanoma cases are usually detected in stage iii. That’s already a bit late for detection I’d say..

There are many risk factors that cause melanoma and despite the benefits of Vitamin D, the sun (!!!) is a major source of UV rays. Moles are also a risk factor to a person if they have irregular or large moles. Fair skin, family history (yep! Still can’t run!), immune suppression, age, gender and even a rare, inherited condition known as xeroderma pigmentosum are also contributing factors to melanoma.

Melanoma can occur anywhere on the body and develop in areas that are most exposed to the sun (see… I don’t wear a hijab for nothing.. LOL). But hey, jokes aside, it can also develop in covered areas like the soles of your feet, your palms and even under your fingernails!!

For screening and diagnosis, you could actually do a self-examination. Go get checked by a physician and as they’re doing the screening, you could ask him/her to show you how to self-screen and what to look out for! There’s actually this simple guide to help you out (and we also have google) it’s called the ‘ABCDE’ acronym which is based on

Asymmetry – One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other

Border – The edges are irregular, ragged, notched or blurred

Colour – The colour is not the same all over and may include shades of brown or black or sometimes even patches of pink, red, white or even blue!

Diameter – The spot is larger than 6 millimetres across (the size of a pencil eraser but they could even be smaller than that)

Everything – The mole is changing size, shape and colour

But…. The only way you can accurately diagnose melanoma is with a biopsy. This means that all or part of the mole or growth is removed and analysed.

That’s basically the low down on what I learnt the other day about these 2 forms of cancer..

But what if you are actually diagnosed with lung cancer, melanoma or any other type of cancer?? What are the things that can be done?

There are a few options of treatments that you could undergo if you are diagnosed.

Surgery

Removal of the tumor and surrounding tissue during an operation. Surgery is the oldest type of cancer therapy.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to shrink tumors and kill cancer cells. X-rays, gamma rays, and charged particles are types of radiation used for cancer treatment.

Chemotherapy

Destroy cancer cells that may remain after treatment with surgery or radiation therapy. Kill cancer cells that have returned or spread to other parts of your body

Immunotherapy

A new treatment method that uses certain parts of a person’s immune system to fight cancer cells. This is done by stimulating the immune system to work hard or smarter to attack cancer cells and also by giving the immune system some extra components; such as man-made immune system proteins. (COOL HUH?!) This treatment basically targets the immune system and not the cancer itself.

There are a few treatments offered for immunotherapy

Monoclonal antibodies – man-made immune system proteins, which are antibodies designed to attack a specific part of a cancer cell.

Cancer Vaccines – substances introduced into the body to cause an immune response against certain diseases.

Non-specific immunotherapies – treatments that generally boost the immune system to help the body attack cancer cells. (I believe this one can be for anyone really).

Immunotherapy holds greater potential than existing conventional treatment approaches to fight cancer and increases long term survival. It helps improve quality of life with lesser side effects.

Target Therapy

The drugs known as targeted therapy help stop cancer from growing and spreading. They work by targeting specific genes or proteins. These genes and proteins are found in cancer cells or in cells related to cancer growth, like blood vessel cells. Doctors often use targeted therapy with chemotherapy and other treatments.

Hormone Therapy

This drug is not a selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM) – it acts like an anti-estrogen throughout the body. This treatment option is used to treat metastatic breast cancer.

It’s amazing how many different treatments there are to help us with treating such a devastating and common disease and it’s great to know that in this country, we have access to all of these here in Malaysia. Alhamdulillah.

So it’s time I get checked soon coz I’m getting old (damn.. I am…) and I actually do have some moles I’ve been told to get seen to and yes, cancer is in my family history too. But if you ever find the chance to go for regular check-ups, I suggest you do just that. Remember, prevention is better than cure!!

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