41-year-old Ravindran had come down to Bangalore from San Francisco for a family visit. When he took his father for an annual health check-up, he thought he may as well get one himself. To his and his family’s surprise, a routine abdominal ultrasound showed that Ravindran had a 4 cm tumor in his right kidney, highly suspicious of a kidney cancer.
When further tests were advised, the family was hopeful that the diagnosis would be something else. But detailed evaluation corroborated the initial diagnosis of a renal cancer – although luckily for him, it was confined to the kidney with no spread to any other part of his body.
When he came to my clinic, he said “But doctor, surely I should have had at least some symptom. I am absolutely fit and in perfectly good health – I even ran the Los Angeles marathon this year. How can I have cancer without any symptoms at all?”
Cancer, when diagnosed at an early stage is most often curable. Early detection relies on screening tests for common cancers (such as mammograms for breast cancer, Pap smears for cervical cancer, or PSA testing for prostate cancer). However, it is not possible to screen for all possible types of cancers as they are not very common. Another way to detect cancer early is by creating awareness about the early warning signs of cancer.
But sometimes, cancer is picked up during a routine health check (as in Ravindran’s case) or even while doing tests for some other unrelated illness.
After deciding to go ahead with treatment in India where he had good family and logistical support, rather than back in the US, Ravindran successfully underwent a partial nephrectomy (surgery to remove the tumor along with a small part of the kidney).
On the morning of his discharge from the hospital, his father was in the room with him. “Doctor, last week I was depressed that my son was diagnosed with cancer just because he accompanied me to my health check-up. But now I have realized that this was a blessing in disguise. Who knows what would have happened if Ravindran had not got the scan done? Maybe his cancer would have progressed to an advanced stage without anyone realizing it. Life has strange ways of teaching us.”