In the fight against cancer, prevention is the most important point, but when the disease has already begun to develop, we have the necessary resources to diagnose and treat it in the shortest possible time and in the best possible conditions.
A few years ago, the commission of European medical experts of the World Health Organization (WHO) met with the intention of creating simple recommendations that would be within the reach of the entire population and that would reduce the rate of cancer-related deaths by 15%. For the time being, the campaigns to raise awareness and inform the population have had an effect, as mortality rates have fallen in recent decades.
Dr. Balsalobre Yago, specialist in Medical Oncology, gives us some tips to take care of our health and reduce the prevalence of cancer in our society.
Recommendations to reduce the prevalence of cancer in our society.
1. Avoid smoking. The association between tobacco and cancer has been shown to favor the appearance of lung and stomach tumors, among others. Currently, in the field of smoking prevention, there are many campaigns underway aimed, above all, at school children, since the age of onset of smoking coincides mostly with high school studies and even earlier.
Moderate alcohol consumption. Drinking alcoholic beverages in excessive quantities and on a regular basis is associated with a risk of stomach and liver tumors. A worrying fact is the association between smoking and drinking, which multiplies the harmful effects of both substances, and it is estimated that more than half of young people between 15 and 35 years of age consume alcohol and tobacco on a regular basis when they go out to dinner or party.
Awareness campaigns have an impact on changing the mentality of young people regarding alcohol and entertainment, although it is a deeply rooted cultural habit in our society, which is still difficult to reverse today.
3. Avoid excessive sun exposure and protect children. Prolonged and excessive exposure to the sun is associated with the development of skin tumors. Preventive measures include the use of sunscreen with an adequate sun protection factor, avoiding direct exposure to the sun in the middle of the day, wearing a hat or sunglasses to protect the head and eyes and, above all, staying hydrated to compensate for losses caused by sweating and perspiration.
4. Respect the professional instructions aimed at preventing exposure to certain substances. Leaving aside the substances popularly known for their association with the development of tumors, we also find other more unknown substances present in our social or work environment. Some of them may be asbestos, used in construction; silica dust in mining and construction; lead for the manufacture of paints and pipes; epoxy resins used for fastening in construction and the automotive industry; and even substances found in nature, such as radon.
It has been estimated that more than half of the carcinogenic diseases caused by exposure to substances at work could have been avoided with appropriate safety measures.
5. Eat a balanced diet based on fruits, fresh vegetables and high-fiber cereals. Consumption of fruits and vegetables has been shown to reduce the risk of gastrointestinal cancers by up to 20%. Other known effects are: it favors the reduction of bad cholesterol, prevents obesity, protects against vitamin deficiencies and is an excellent source of energy for sports. It is recommended to consume 6 pieces of fruit daily.
6. Increase your physical activity and limit your intake of high-fat foods. A diet rich in fats, especially saturated fats, present in foods such as tallow, butter, cream or animal skins, is associated with the risk of high cholesterol, heart disease and colon tumors. The consequence of a disordered diet is overweight, which is another risk factor for the appearance of hormone-sensitive tumors. It is therefore advisable to exercise daily for at least 30 minutes, starting progressively until a good level of effort is reached.
7. Consult your physician in case of any significant change in your body. The human body is continually in a state of change and evolution, generally occurring slowly. Changes that are prolonged in time or that begin rapidly and without explanation should be studied. Some examples may be the following: skin lesions such as ulcers or cuts that do not heal may hide a skin cancer; changes in the size, shape, color or consistency of a mole may degenerate into a melanoma; or the appearance of lumps or nodules that need not be painful in the body, and that were not previously there, should be studied by a specialist.
8. Consult your doctor in case of persistent disorders such as chronic cough, persistent hoarseness, change in bowel or urinary habits, or unexplained weight loss. Sometimes, the excessive duration of common processes in the human body, such as cough, sore throat, voice changes or diarrhea, can hide other more important pathologies. The persistence of dry cough and alteration of voice tone, especially in patients who smoke or drink, can hide lung or larynx tumors among others. The alteration in adulthood of the intestinal or urinary rhythm for a long time and without justification should be studied to rule out tumors of the colon or urinary system.
A symptom common to almost all types of cancer is weight loss in short periods of time without explanation.
Specific recommendations for women
For the case of women, in addition to the above recommendations, the doctor also advises the following:
9. Have regular gynecological check-ups. Participate in early diagnosis programs, such as cervical cancer screening with a vaginal smear as established by your specialist.
Women should start regular gynecological check-ups once they have started sexual relations or when they are in their teens. The association between human papillomavirus infection and the development of cervical cancer in later years has been demonstrated for some years. Therefore, efforts are currently being directed towards vaccination of women between the ages of 12-16 years as the most effective method for preventing the appearance of cervical tumors.
10. Monitor your breasts regularly, and if possible have a mammogram at regular intervals as recommended by your doctor. Probably the best known and most widely followed prevention program is the breast cancer prevention program. It is estimated that 1 in 7 women will develop some type of breast-related cancer, which indicates the need and validity of prevention campaigns.
The breast cancer screening program is generally initiated in women aged 50 years and older, with breast examination by a specialist physician every year and periodic mammography, depending on the program, every one or two years.
There is a subgroup of women who benefit from starting the prevention program early, such as those who have a family history of breast cancer, have previously had a malignant disease related to the breast, or have been diagnosed with a genetic mutation that favors the appearance of breast cancer. In all of them, the program will start earlier and screening will be closer, in order to diagnose the disease at the earliest stage and thus increase cure rates.
Participate in vaccination campaigns
In Spain we have a multitude of vaccination campaigns according to the different population groups. The best known is the seasonal flu and pneumococcus, aimed at adults, pregnant women or at-risk groups, tetanus and diphtheria aimed at healthcare personnel, or the human papillomavirus campaign, already mentioned above, aimed at girls between 12 and 16 years of age before they start having sexual relations.
By following these simple recommendations we will reduce the risk of suffering a cancer-related disease, and at the same time we will gain quality of life by reducing adverse cardiovascular events, lowering our cholesterol, improving our blood pressure and regulating our intestinal transit; in general, we will gain in health.