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Heeding Signals is Key

Cancer Column Editors Speak Health and Wellness October 2018

Heeding Signals is Key

One needs to pay attention to the symptoms one’s body displays and get them diagnosed correctly

By Dr Ulhas Ganu

There is a Sanskrit shloka, which translates loosely to, there is no smoke without fire (Yatra Yatra Vanhi: Tatra Tatra Dhum). In other words, whenever we see smoke we understand that there must be fire underneath. The beauty is that the smoke can be seen from a long distance and once the diagnosis (of fire) is made, depending on the degree or severity of the smoke and the place, we infer potential cause and take appropriate action. Interestingly, the same rule is applicable to our bodies. On a gross level when we are fine, we are not unduly aware of our body parts. They signal their discomfort in several ways when things go wrong. Indigestion is indicated by discomfort in the abdomen, no yearning to eat and any contrary action would make matters worse. There can be scores of reasons for abdominal pain.

Going to a nearby chemist for medication on your own (without consulting a doctor) is not the solution as the (abdominal) pain is a symptom and not a disease. What we need to treat is the disease and not the symptom. I wish to refer to two different cases I came across as a common man and the outcome. A lady with ascitic fluid in the abdominal cavity knew very well that something was wrong with her health. Instead of approaching a doctor, the family went to a naturopath who promised to reduce fluid formation through diet control and some medication. The fluid formation was not the disease; ovarian cancer was responsible for ascites formation. A timely visit to a physician could have avoided delay in diagnosis and worked in favor of conservative enough treatment such as timely surgery. Delayed diagnosis spoils chances of (early) cure.

Heeding Signals is Key 1
Dr. Ulhas Ganu

The other two cases are not from oncology but refer to other conditions. While in Pune, a neighbor talked of her daughter in her thirties having been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. She said that since allopathy (modern medicine) has adverse side effects, they discontinued the treatment and shifted to alternative medicine. Nevertheless, the disease was progressing and as a scientist, they wanted to seek my opinion. Luckily, I could convince them about the likelihood of irreversible nature of damage caused in the absence of proper medication, leading to a degeneration of joints. Trusting me, they visited a rheumatologist and within a couple of months, the lady got a fair amount of relief as further damage was averted.

Cancer generally takes a much longer time to develop and express itself. When it does, heeding warning signals can help detect it early. We are not trained at diagnosis but our alertness in spotting warning signs or symptoms followed by prompt action in reaching a doctor can save the day. Symptoms of investigations to diagnosis are prerequisites for proper therapy. That improves prognosis or outcome of therapy. Being alert is helping oneself. A difficult to treat disease invites the entry of alternative medicine. There are videos doing the rounds about a food product from apricot, the chemical name of which is amygdalin. It releases the poisonous gas Hydrogen Cyanide which probably kills cancer cells and is claimed to be the mechanism of action for its anticancer activity. In controlled animal and clinical studies, it has failed to elicit anticancer activity. Having failed at the clinical level, it failed to get approval as an anticancer drug. Since this is not approved by the US FDA it is not available in the USA. Failing to make drug grade, it was branded as Vitamin B17 for entering the market.

We know that Vitamin B-Complex represents a family of substances that act as coenzymes influencing important biochemical/physiological reactions in our body. As yet, there is no chemical substance officially designated as Vitamin B17. Thus there is a lot of controversy about this product. It is necessary to understand that every potential drug passes through stringent tests before approval. Failed products are thrown out; hence, it is advisable to consult one’s physician before taking any food product claiming to show therapeutic activity.

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