Don’t risk it: get a cancer checkWhat is the best way to overcome cancer, the deadly disease that kills one out of four Koreans? Preventative measures alone are not enough.
Factors that cause cancer vary depending on the type. Consuming too much charred meat is said to induce stomach cancer, and smoking, as we all know, causes lung cancer. But it seems as though with each passing day, something new has been deemed bad for human health. The fact is, you can’t stop driving simply because you fear the health effects of air pollution. For much the same reason, a growing number of medical experts point to early detection over prevention as the preferred means of battling cancer.
Up to 90 percent of cancer cases can be cured if the patient is diagnosed within the first phase of the disease, according to medical experts. This still leaves 1 out of 10 people without a cure. This might explain the recent increase in discussions among medical specialists in Korea about the need for patient diagnosis during the pre-development phase of cancer, when the tumor is in a benign condition, known as lobular carcinoma in situ.
“It’s a type of non-invasive cancer during the primitive phase of the disease in which the cancerous cells have not yet spread to the muscles or bloodstream,” said Jeong Jin-haeng, a pathologist at the Korea Cancer Center Hospital. “Even though the name ‘carcinoma’ is usually used in reference to cancer cells, it doesn’t have the characteristics of the kinds of tumors that lead to life-threatening conditions.”
This phase of cancer does not fall under the medical classification of “cancer,” which enables insurance companies to get away with only partially compensating for the surgery.
Early detection is easiest for breast cancer and cervical cancer patients, because the epidermis develops in layers in these two types of cancer. Detection of carcinoma in situ is important because there is nearly a 100 percent chance of survival if treatment is received during this stage. Often, with such early detection, no further treatment ― such as chemotherapy or surgery ― is needed.
A 32-year-old woman identified as Ms. K recently went through a pap smear biopsy as part of her company’s annual medical check-up. The results suggested she might have a tumor. After a pap virus test and a cervicography, a photographic procedure, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer in the pre-developmental phase.
For the next several days, Ms. K went through a process called the Loop Electro Excision Procedure, commonly abbreviated as LEEP, which is used to treat abnormal cervical cells. For the procedure, an electric loop was inserted into her cervix to burn off the surface of the cancerous tissues. The surgery took only five minutes, and was performed with the patient under partial anesthesia. Ms. K was able to go home the morning after her surgery.
Ms. K said she still can’t believe that the simple surgery that she went through was a cancer treatment. If all goes well, all she will need to do in the next few years is take a pap test every three months to ensure that all the tumor cells in her cervix were removed. Due to the early detection of the disease, she didn’t have to have a hysterectomy.
Kim Seong-su, an obstetrics and gynecology specialist at Pyeongchon Bombit Hospital, noted that up to half the women with carcinoma in situ eventually develop malignant tumors after 10 years.
“Even if there aren’t special symptoms, such as vaginal bleeding, women over 20 who have had sexual intercourse should get tested,” Mr. Kim said.
Costs range from about 30,000 ($25) to 100,000 won, depending on the hospital. Many physicians continue to cite the importance of the pap test, claiming that the growing number of women who are tested is the reason behind a significant decrease in cervical cancer cases in Korea. Just a few years ago, cervical cancer was the most common type of cancer afflicting Korean women. Now it has been overtaken by breast cancer.
Breast cancer may also be detected during the carcinoma in situ phase through mammography screening, when the tumor remains within the surface of the epidermis, or near the breast’s lactiferous duct.
“Up to 30 percent of breast cancer cases are detected at this phase in the United States, compared to 5 percent here,” said No Dong-young, a surgeon at Seoul National University Hospital.
Diagnosed patients need not go through chemotherapy if the diagnosis occurs within the early phase. However, unlike cervical cancer, partial removal of breast tissue is necessary for the prevention of breast cancer.
Whether cervical cancer or breast cancer ― or cancers in general, for that matter ― the truth is simple: Early detection means a better chance of a cure.
by Hong Hye-geol