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Cancer myths to be dispelled

Cancer myths to be dispelled

Dr Francesca Valvo - Medical Director

28 Apr/17

Too much is said about cancer research, cure and prevention, but nowadays there is a lot of wrong data being widespread which may be negative on your healthy lifestyle. For example, people think that if you live in a polluted city you are exposed to the same risks than smoking, is that true?

In fact, air pollution is one of the causes of some pulmonary diseases (asthma, chronic bronchitis), including lung cancer, since it causes a chronic pulmonary inflammation that may foster a tumour in predisposed people.

However, cigarette smoke is still the main risk factor related to the appearance of lung cancer (as well as other types of tumours like pancreas, bladder, ovaries). Smokers are doing no more than adding the carcinogenic effect of cigarettes to the negative effect of the inflammation provoked by smog.

The tumour disease has a multi-factorial origin, therefore, some habits such as stop smoking, having a balanced diet and being vaccinated against the papillomavirus are highly important to prevent it.

Is it true that people affected by this disease always have a sick relative?

Only a percentage lower than 10% of the tumours is hereditary. And in any case, to inherit the changed gene increases the risk of a tumour but it does not necessarily mean that you will develop the disease. Most of the tumours are related to the increase in the average age of the population because cancer is diagnosed especially at an old age. Besides, the increase in the diagnostic capabilities allows us to find more tumours, which result more frequent than in the past, but in compensation less people die because there was an early diagnose and the cure was more effective.

Can the therapies against cancer generate other tumours?

The drugs and the radiations may have a mutagenic effect on healthy cells, but the possibilities are much lower than the risk of dying from an existent tumour not treated adequately. Therefore, the benefits are by far superior than the possible risks.

Nevertheless, it is still necessary to pay attention to everything that may expose patients to future risks during treatment: in the last years there has been a minor use of mutagenic drugs and of more selective radiotherapy techniques apart from the most recent use of new particles like protons. These protons conserve the healthy tissues, improve the quality of life of patients, that today can be cured and enjoy a longer life expectancy.

This is more common in young patients with curable tumours, especially in the field of paediatrics where the use of protons is necessary to conserve the healthy tissues and to allow its future growth and the preservation of the function.

It is known that irradiating large areas of a child's brain may slow cognitive functions. In adults, very low doses to ovaries or testicles may definitely compromise fertility. The use of protons paves the way to a new method for a treatment with a very low risk of harm.

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