Three survivors share cancer symptoms that made them go to a doctor

14 November 2022 dot 6-minute read
Healthy Body Feature Live Well Cancer Illnesses and diseases
The term cancer survivors refer to people who have been diagnosed with cancer. (Credit: Getty Images)
Research efforts keep moving toward a better understanding of cancer symptoms and how it works, but it's difficult to pinpoint what causes cancer. Scientists believe it may arise from a complex combination of genes, environmental factors or behaviours. These bad habits may include an unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity to smoking and alcohol consumption. 
Once it grows or spreads (metastasised), cancer symptoms appear. These vary based on cancer's location, size and how much it has affected the tissues and organs near it. 
Here, three cancer survivors share what prompted them to go to the doctor and what they hope you can learn from their journey. 


Risk factors 

According to Singapore's National Cancer Centre, skin cancer is one of the top 10 most frequent cancers in the country. (Credit: Shutterstock)
Lisa, a mother of two girls and co-owner of a bakery, was 25 years old when she was diagnosed with skin cancer, the 17th most common cancer worldwide, according to the World Cancer Research Fund International. 
Skin cancer is an abnormal growth of skin cells, often caused by exposure to the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. Among the risk factors are: 
  • red hair
  • freckled, fair and sensitive skin that reddens or burns quickly
  • advanced age
  • a family or a personal history of skin cancer
  • a large number of moles
Lisa was aware of her risk factors – red hair, freckled and fair skin – but she spent time "outdoors in the sun, without caring too much about sunscreen, hats or sunglasses."
Most types of skin cancers are preventable. Limiting sun exposure and wearing sunscreen and protective clothing when the sun's rays are strong will help keep the skin healthy and lower the chances of getting skin cancer. Also, checking your skin and moles for suspicious changes can help detect skin cancer at its earliest stages.
A suspicious spot on her face prompted Lisa to go to a dermatologist, who confirmed she had skin cancer. It was treated with surgery, which left her with a scar, a reminder of what she could have avoided.
"I had to learn the hard way, but you don't have to," Lisa, now cancer-free, says. She encourages everyone to make daily skincare and sun safety habits, even if they have no known risk factor.

Cancer can happen to anyone

"The word 'cancer' is the last word I wanted to hear," says Steven, a retired accountant diagnosed with aggressive throat cancer. 
Throat cancer can develop in the mouth, lips and tongue, the pharynx or throat and the larynx or vocal cord. Some early symptoms are lumps in the neck or throat, hoarseness and sore throat, difficulty swallowing or any difficulty moving the jaw. It is considered one of the many head and neck cancers, with the highest incidence in Asia. Data published in a report from Novotech estimates a total of 800,000 head and neck cancer cases in seven Asian countries throughout 2020.
Smoking and alcohol are considered significant risk factors for cancers in the head and neck. According to research, drinking any type of alcohol and smoking, sniffing and chewing tobacco products can significantly raise the risk of cancer of the mouth, throat and vocal cords.
Steven described himself as a person in good health until he started having bad headaches. "I kept having them for a few weeks and blamed them on some stressful events I was going through at that time," he says. "Then my neck and throat started to hurt, and some sores suddenly appeared in my mouth."
After some testing and x-rays, a tumour was found on Steven's throat and a biopsy determined it was a malignant tumour. He felt fortunate – the cancer was aggressive, but it was not symptomless and was detected in its early stages.
After successful surgery to remove the tumour completely, Steven is now undergoing radiation treatment. "I read about the risk factors for throat cancer, and I completely stopped smoking and drinking alcohol since the day of my diagnosis."  

Learn your family's medical history 

Around five to 10 per cent of cancer cases are due to genetic mutations and can be inherited from family members. (Credit: Shutterstock)
Jackie, a professional dancer and teacher, had just turned 35 when she found a lump in her left breast. She was not surprised to find out it was breast cancer, the most prevalent cancer globally as of 2020, according to the World Health Organization. 
"I remember being nervous and scared, but not too shocked when I felt the lump in my breast as my mother and grandmother both had breast cancer before," she shares. "I knew it was a possibility because of my family history. Also, I previously got genetic testing as I wanted to know for sure whether I was a carrier of the BRCA gene mutation. I tested positive."
Breast cancer 1 (BRCA1) and breast cancer 2 (BRCA2) are the genes typically affected in hereditary breast and ovarian cancers. But breast cancer has other risk factors, including age (the risk increases as women age), weight gain after menopause, reproductive history, lack of physical activity and alcohol consumption.
If you have a family history of breast cancer, keeping a healthy lifestyle and regularly getting screening tests could make a significant difference and detect cancer early when treatment is likely to work best.
Jackie is now cancer-free, but she still goes to the doctor for regular check-ups and recommended mammograms. She stays active and keeps a healthy weight.
"I know it could happen again as it's in my genes," she says. "I like to think that being healthy is a lifestyle, not just a temporary fix. And if you fall off the wagon, it's no big issue if you pick yourself up and get back on track."
Cancer is still one of the leading causes of death in Asia, but survival rates are improving – thanks to research, screening, prevention and more effective treatments and therapies.
As research on what causes cancer continues, there's a lot you can do to lower your risk of cancer. Prevention often comes down to knowing your family history, educating yourself and tackling the combination of factors linked to cancer. Get regular physical check-ups and embrace a healthier lifestyle. 
Equip yourself with critical illness protection for more peace of mind. It's designed to help and support you financially if you experience cancer symptoms or one of the diseases covered by the policy. That way you can focus on yourself and what matters most.
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This is general information only and is not intended as financial, medical, health, nutritional or other advice. You should obtain professional advice from a financial adviser, or medical or health practitioner in relation to your own personal circumstances.

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