Sat, Jul 10, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Cancer guidebook tells all

By Wang Hsiao-wen  /  STAFF REPORTER

For women bewildered by the myriad opinions of doctors, the latest book on cancer published by the National Health Research Institute is a straightforward guide that encourages women to learn more about their bodies before they see the doctor.

As part of the institute's public awareness campaign, the book lists symptoms and recommended therapies for cervical, ovarian and endometrial cancer, as well as stressing the importance of pap tests and regular checkups.

"Prevention is always more effective than therapy," institute head Wu Cheng-wen (吳成文) said yesterday.

The level of public awareness on cervical cancer, for example, has increased, but that is not the full story. In 2000, 6,276 new cases were diagnosed and 971 women died. Yet in 2002, 941 women still died of cervical cancer even though pap smears had been introduced widely, according to figures released by the Department of Health.

In most people, the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, which is associated with cervical cancer, is harmless and usually removed by the immune system. But in some women the infection persists and can lead to cervical cancer.

One leading doctor has therefore urged women with sexual experience to consult their doctor if they have not had a pap smear.

"Although the Department of Health only targets woman over 30, I suggest that women get a pap smear once they become sexually active," said Chang Ting-chang (張廷彰), director of obstetrics and gynecology at Chang Gung Memorial Hospital.

Endometrial cancer, too, is increasingly prevalent among women. Cases of endometrial cancer have steadily climbed from 370 in 1999 to 418 in 2000.

Women with high blood pressure or diabetes or who are obese are at high risk.

"Women who have a high socio-economic status are more vulnerable to endometrial cancer. In many cases, it is an excess of nutrition rather than malnutrition that leads to cancer," said Yen Ming-shyen (顏明賢), director of gynecological oncology at Taipei Veterans General Hospital.

Doctors warn that some women disregard signs of ovarian cancer, thinking them instead to be abdominal swelling.

"I have diagnosed many cancer patients who simply thought that they were too fat," said Wang Kung-liahng (王功亮), secretary-general of the Taiwan Association of Gynecological Oncologists.

Wang said that women who never bear children or who have a family history of cancer are more exposed to this threat. He said that 308 patients died of ovarian cancer in 2002.

Doctors in different fields agree that the best way to fight cancer is early diagnosis. Most people experience symptoms that might be caused by cancer long before seeing a health professional. Unaware of cancer's potential, many patients miss a good opportunity to attack the condition before it becomes incurable.

"The book's goal is to increase the availability of medical knowledge and promote awareness in women of their health," said Jacqueline Whang-Peng (彭汪嘉康), director of the institute's division of cancer research.

According to Chen Chi-an (陳祈安), a gynecologist at National Taiwan University Hospital, readers will not find the terminology used in the book too baffling.

"Patients are smarter than doctors usually think," Chen said.

People who want more details can read the entire text of the guide online (available in Chinese only) at www.nhri.org.tw/nhri_org/ca/main4.htm.

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