Q & A

January 14, 2011

While most people have at least a basic knowledge about cancer, it's still a subject that causes plenty of fear and misconceptions. Better Health invited Dr. Suthida Suwannavecho, an oncologist and hematologist, to answer readers' cancer-related questions.

Q: What are the key cancer symptoms or markers that people should be aware of?

A: Early detection makes treating cancer less traumatic and more effective. In addition to following your doctor's recommendation for periodic cancer screenings, the following are the most common symptoms that may signal the presence of cancer:
  • Significant unexplained weight loss;  
  • Unexplained intense pain in the stomach, chest or bones;
  • Persistent cough, sore throat and/or voice change;
  • Change in the size or appearance of a mole or birthmark;
  • Bruise that doesn't heal within a few weeks;
  • Blood in the urine, rectal bleeding and/or constipation alternating with diarrhea;
  • Dizziness, drowsiness, problems with balance or coordination;
  • Loss of appetite, difficulty swallowing;
  • Lump or mass in the breast, shoulder or armpit.

These symptoms don't automatically indicate the presence of cancer; some types of cancer don't produce symptoms in their early stages. Screening tests for cancer, including colon, breast and cervical cancers, are highly effective at spotting cancerous growths before any symptoms appear.

It's important to consult a doctor if you experience any cancer-related symptoms; earlier detection makes cancer treatments more likely to succeed and easier for patients to tolerate.


Q: Is it truly possible to prevent cancer?

A: According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in every three cancers could have been prevented by following these risk-reducing steps:
  • Don't smoke cigarettes;
  • Maintain a healthy weight;
  • Exercise for 30 minutes or more five times a week;
  • Limit consumption of processed foods. Choose high-fiber foods like fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains;
  • Limit alcohol consumption;
  • Practice safer sex;
  • Avoid long periods of sun exposure;
  • Get yourself immunized;
  • Follow your doctor's advice for regular health check-ups and screenings.

Q:  A close friend who went through chemotherapy didn't suffer any side effects that I assumed were common for cancer patients. What factors might affect whether a patient will have side effects from chemotherapy?

A: Chemotherapy medication affects both cancer cells and healthy cells. Most patients experience at least some unpleasant side effects; their severity can be affected by a patient's overall health as well as the type and dosage of the particular medication used in the treatment. Chemotherapy patients typically experience loss of appetite, hair loss, and problems of the throat, mouth and gums.

To determine the best treatment strategy, doctors evaluate a patient's overall health condition and factors such as medicine type and dosage level. In some cases, they may prescribe particular medications to counteract anticipated side effects.

Cancer patients should try not to worry about possible side effects. They should keep an optimistic outlook during treatment and focus on positive thoughts. Side effects tend to resolve themselves fairly quickly, and the rewards of a successful treatment outcome far outweigh the unpleasant side effects.

Have a question? You can submit your question for possible inclusion in future issues of Better Health, by e-mail [email protected] or by mail to Editor, Better Health Magazine, Bumrungrad International Hospital, 33 Sukhumvit 3, Wattana, Bangkok 10110, Thailand.
For more information please contact:

Related Health Blogs