Why is cancer detected in late or advanced stages? Why is there delay in diagnosing cancer? What can we do to catch it in early stages?

I recently saw one young man in his late 30s – he had persistent headache and pain in neck for almost a year- which he self-attributed to long working hours and desk job.

He would self-medicate himself with pain killers or analgesics. Incidentally his mom was admitted in hospital with typhoid fever. Since he was in the hospital, he thought of consulting a physician. Based on his history of long standing and severe pain – doctor ordered MRI brain and spine – which showed high grade advanced brain tumour going into spine/ neck. Fortunately, this tumour had not spread and was localized to brain, but had become very large in size. It was removed successfully with surgery and was then treated with radiation therapy.
Where did things go wrong? Why was there delay in diagnosis and what we could have done to pick it up early?
Cancer has no symptoms of itself which can be shared with the world to raise awareness of early cancer diagnosis. Some of the common symptoms of cancer are

  1. Unexplained weight loss
  2. Persistent loss of appetite
  3. Back pain (headache in our patient’s case)
  4. Difficulty in swallowing food
  5. Change in voice
  6. Cough
  7. Any swelling /ulcer
  8. Blood in urine/ stool / cough

Now let’s take example of back pain or cough – these are such common symptoms that almost everyone experiences them sometime.

But the key for early detection of cancer or any other serious health problem is that if any symptom is persisting beyond 3 -4 weeks then it needs to be adequately investigated- including investigations for cancer if suspected after basic investigations.
So the key to early diagnosis is -do not ignore any persistent symptom, consult your doctor and get yourself adequately investigated.