Preventing cancer means implementing a series of actions that aim to reduce the probability of a tumor appearing.
The concept of prevention has started to become important, especially since the incidence of mortality due to this pathology has increased significantly in the last few decades. For this reason, it was decided to move from a cure-only approach to the diaseas to a preventive one: to reduce the incidence of cancer and the mortality associated with it, something must be done before becoming ill, therefore before the disease appears.
Prevention can be carried out mainly in two ways:
- Changing lifestyle (primary prevention)
- Participating in screening programs (secondary prevention)
Lifestyle and primary prevention
Cancer is a multifactorial disease, in other words the causes are multiple, complex and not on all of them can act to prevent the development of the disease. Some cancer risk factors, such as age and sex, cannot be changed; others, like smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, exposure to carcinogens, depend on our behavior, our lifestyle, the environment in which we live and work, so they can be modified.
The purpose of primary prevention is to avoid the onset of cancer and this is possible by reducing risk factors and increasing protective factors.
It is now scientifically proven that the lifestyle we adopt greatly influences the risk of developing a tumor disease.
The main norms to follow for the primary prevention of tumors are the following:
- Lose weight if you are overweight or obese. Excess body fat causes chronic inflammation and metabolic changes that are conditions that favor the growth of cancer cells.
- Make move. Regular physical activity helps to maintain body weight, blood sugar levels, insulin and all those elements that favor the onset of cancer.
- Follow a healthy diet rich in fruit, vegetables and legumes, poor in animal fats and processed foods, with a good content of vegetable fats and preferring the consumption of vegetable proteins compared to animal ones.
- Avoid the consumption of alcoholic beverages as they are responsible for the onset of different forms of cancer.
- Stop smoking. Tobacco is the leading cause of lung cancer which in turn is the leading cause of oncological death. Smoking is carcinogenic even for those who do not smoke but only inhale it (passive smoking).
- If you work in workplaces where you are exposed to carcinogens, use personal protective equipment to protect yourself against these substances.
- Avoid excessive exposure to the sun especially during the hottest hours and always protect yourself with high-protection creams. Ultraviolet rays increase the risk of developing melanoma.
- Get vaccinated against carcinogenic infectious agents: hepatitis B virus or papilloma virus.
- Breastfeeding as it reduces a woman’s exposure to hormones, especially protecting her against breast cancer.
Screening and secondary prevention
The purpose of secondary prevention is to identify the tumor at a very early stage so that it is possible to treat it effectively, thus increasing the healing rates and reducing the mortality rate.
It is possible to do secondary prevention by participating in cancer screening programs.
Screening is a set of tests that are performed in asymptomatic people to verify the presence of cancer early.
Today, numerous diagnostic tests are available to assess the presence of the disease. Not all, however, can be considered good screening methods. To be used in a screening, the diagnostic test must:
- be safe and free of side effects
- being able to change the course of the disease
- have an acceptable cost
- provide a reliable result as much as possible
A screening test should not be performed once in a lifetime but should be repeated at regular intervals. A negative result, in fact, indicates that one is not sick but does not exclude that one can get sick later; for this reason it is important to repeat them over time.
The most common screening, as they have proven to be the most effective in changing the natural history of the disease, are those for the prevention of breast, cervical and colorectal cancer.
- pap test: used to make early diagnosis of cervical cancer
- mammography and breast ultrasound scanning: used to make early diagnosis of breast cancer
- colonoscopy and fecal occult blood research: used to make early diagnosis of colorectal cancer
There is also a third way of doing prevention, which in this case concerns patients with the chronic or irreversible phase.
The purpose of tertiary prevention is to avoid or limit the appearance of relapses, complications or debilitating outcomes.
Tertiary prevention is achieved by providing the patient home medical-nursing assistance, motor rehabilitation, psychological support and a whole series of services that serve the patient to better manage his disease to improve the quality of life.
Tertiary prevention also includes nutrition which, in addition to helping to prevent the onset of cancer, is also very important in an advanced stage of the disease. Indeed, it has been seen that patients who eat healthy and correctly according to specific guidelines have a better quality of life and survival.