It may start as a sore spot on your tongue or your cheek. You brush it off, thinking it is just the usual ulcer you get during that time of the month. Or perhaps you have been having an extra stressful few weeks at work, which resulted in you not eating properly. So you take vitamin supplements and drink more water and try to get some rest, but the sore spot just does not go away.
After a few weeks, you notice that it has grown rapidly in size. You may start having numbness around that area. By this time, you must be asking yourself, “What should I do? Should I go to the doctor?” Yes, you absolutely should. The sooner, the better. Because as scary as this may sound, it could be a cancer lesion, and nothing good will come out of it if you delay the treatment.
Cancer occurs when the part of your DNA which controls cell growth gets mutated. This results in rapid, uncontrolled growth of cancer cells which form a tumour. Oral cancer is the eleventh most frequent cancer in Malaysia, in which 2 new cases are diagnosed every day. Risk factors include tobacco (smoked and smokeless), betel or areca nut (sireh), alcohol consumption, Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and radiation.
During my undergraduate years in India and my stint at a hospital in the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, I have seen my fair share of oral cancer cases. It is sad to note that more than half of these cancer cases were diagnosed when they were already in Stage 3 or even the later stages, which made surgery to remove the lesion difficult or even nearly impossible.
According to a study published in the Annals of Dentistry, University of Malaya, Volume 3, the most common reason for delay in seeking treatment is because the lesion is asymptomatic (has no symptoms). Some of the subjects however, had hopes that the lesion would heal by themselves without the help of surgery and modern medicine, while some admitted to being afraid of what the diagnosis would be. Some cited other reasons such as financial and transportation problems, and not being aware of the lesion until they paid their doctors or dentists a visit due to another health concern.
In conjunction with the recently concluded Oral Cancer Awareness Week, one of our missions at the Malaysian Medical Gazette is to increase awareness about a disease that is taking the lives of Malaysians every day. We strongly encourage you to empower yourselves with knowledge on the disease and perform regular health check-ups so that any initial lesion or sign of oral cancer can be detected and treated early. You can also perform frequent self-check-up as instructed in our previously published article on oral cancer here: http://www.mmgazette.com/kanser-di-dalam-mulut-dr-husna-razak/ These are simple steps that you can follow and will take up to two minutes at most.
It also goes without saying that if you are a smoker, alcohol drinker or betel nut chewer, you should be working on reducing the habit gradually or better yet, quitting it. It is never too late to start. I understand that cancer is a scary thing and it is perfectly understandable if you delay in seeking help because you are scared of what the diagnosis and outcome would be. But try to remember this; generally, cancer lesions that are detected and treated early have better prognosis (outlook) and survival rates.
Muslims practise a concept about putting your trust in God, to believe that He alone can ward off all the challenges and harms in the world, provide sustenance and relief and blessings – tawakkal. However, this concept should not be understood as a concept of fatalism whereby putting complete reliance and trust in God means you should just sit around and pray without actually trying to deal with the challenges yourselves, such as rejecting medical or surgical treatment when diagnosed with a potentially fatal disease like cancer.
Some scholars have stated that: “Tawakkal in reality does not deny actually working and striving for provision, for Allah Almighty has decreed that we should work and it is from His ways that he gives people when they strive. In fact, Allah Almighty ordered us to both depend upon Him and to work, to take the necessary steps needed to achieve our goals, and so the act of striving for our sustenance is an act of physical worship while trusting and depending upon Allah is faith in Him.” (Permanent Committee for Research and Verdicts (Fatawa Islamiyah, Vol. 7, Pages 172-174).
In short, rather than giving up efforts and wait for things to fall onto our laps, we should instead work towards resolving challenges and obstacles in our lives. We also should be aware of our health and try to get valid information regarding any condition before making any decision that could potentially affect our whole lives.
Dr. Husna Razak (BDS) (KLE VK) is a dental officer working in the Kelantan. Know more about her in The Team page.
- Khoo Sp, Shanmuhasuntharam P, Mahadzir WM, Tay KK, Latif A, Nair S. Delay in diagnosis of oral cancer in Malaysia: a study of five centres, Annals Dent Univ Malaya 1996; 3: 1-4.