Which test can detect any cancer early?

Health worker reviewing a mammogram.

Dr Flo, I have seen relatives and friends die after a torturous fight with cancer. These people usually go to hospital with symptoms early, but unfortunately nobody seems to diagnose the actual problem until the cancer has advanced. If I do an MRI test every year, can this help detect cancer early so that it is dealt with before it becomes advanced? Or which test can catch cancer early? Please advise me because I am worried. Carol

Dear Carol,
There are many types of cancer and they can attack any organ in the body. Unfortunately, some cancers do not have any means of being screened. However, every cancer that can be screened has tests that are specific for that kind of cancer e.g. Pap smear and HPV test for cervical cancer; stool tests and colonoscopy for colorectal cancer; breast exam and mammography for breast cancer; endoscopy for oesophageal cancer; low-dose CT scan for lung cancer; and physical exam, PSA (prostatic specific antigen) and ultrasound for prostate cancer. The Kenya National Cancer Screening Guidelines released last November are available online and can give you more details.
The only examination that might detect a number of cancers is a PET-scan (Positron Emission Tomography), though it carries some risk; it may give you false positive results and it does not detect all cancers.
Trying to identify all possible cancers early is like trying to identify and stop all possible evils in society with one strategy. Do your best to live a healthy life and do the screening tests that you can regularly and hope for the best.

Dr Flo, two years ago, my five-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a ganglion on her left wrist. Sometimes it swells and becomes painful and sometimes it recedes with no pain. Does a ganglion pose a risk? How can she be relieved of it without the risk of recurrence? Kindly shed light on its cure. Vee

Dear Vee,
A ganglion cyst occurs when there is a protrusion of the synovial fluid and the membrane around it from a joint or a tendon. The synovial fluid is the fluid around joints and tendons that provides lubrication and cushioning during movement. Ganglions can occur at any joint, but are most common on the back of the wrist.
There is no known cause of the protrusion. If it causes pain or limits movement at the joint, it can be removed surgically. Otherwise, it can be left as it is because it is not dangerous.

Dr Flo, I went to the pharmacy with a prescription for antidepressants and the attendant gave me a packet of drugs that were set to expire in six days. Given that I was to take the medication for a month, I would be taking the drugs long after they expired. The attendant tried to assure me that the medicine would still be effective, but I didn’t believe him. Is it really safe and effective to take medicine that is nearly expired or already expired? Please clarify. Glory

Dear Glory,
The expiration date is the final day that the manufacturer guarantees the full potency and safety of medication for legal and liability reasons. Heat, humidity, light, and other storage factors can affect stability and the stability cannot be guaranteed once the original bottle is opened.

There is really no way to know whether the drugs will be 100 per cent effective unless they are tested. A study conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (a regulator in the US) found that the actual shelf life of about 90 per cent of products is longer than the labelled expiration date, with some being perfectly good to use even 15 years after.
The medications that should not be used past the expiry date are those that can degrade quickly e.g. insulin, vaccines, oral nitro-glycerine, refrigerated liquids, eye drops, injectables, biological and blood products.
Also avoid any medication that is crumbling or powdery, or has a strong smell or an ointment or cream that has dried up.

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