Is it possible to prevent cancer?

Tell the truth: are your exams up to date? Have you been exercising? And the food, is it more like homemade food or more like fast food? Exams up to date, regular physical activities and good nutrition: this is the Holy Trinity of cancer prevention.

I know it’s not yet pink October (month dedicated to alerting about the breast cancer), I know it sounds like bullshit, that this will never happen to you. I also rolled my eyes when someone told me I should stop drinking soda and exercise more. But this isn’t guessing or the “fitness people thing”: this is pure science.

Say goodbye to sedentary lifestyle: physical activity is essential in preventing cancer. Photo Felipe Rau/Estadão

“I joke with patients, saying that ‘if I told you that a new chemo has emerged, which will bring proven results, would you do it?’ So, there are data that doing physical activity before treatment, during treatment, after treatment is extremely effective. But it’s very difficult to change this mindset. We take care of others and not us”, says Dr. Marina Sahade, oncologist specializing in breast cancer at Hospital Sírio-Libanês.

This is the most pure true. The woman schedules a doctor for her children, for her mother, for her husband, but when it comes to making an appointment for herself, she ends up putting it off. We have a bad habit of not putting ourselves as a priority, but I bring truths: if we’re not well and healthy, we can’t take care of anyone. So let’s put ourselves first, okay?

And if before the pandemic it was already difficult to keep the exams up to date, with her arrival the delay was generalized. According to a study carried out by the Hospital Sírio-Libanês at the request of the WHO, the cancer diagnoses fell 77% in this period. – but that’s not exactly good news. Unfortunately, the number does not reflect a drop in the number of patients, but in diagnoses.

“Early diagnosis is extremely important,” says Dr. Solange Sanches, head of clinical breast tumor oncologist at the AC Camargo Cancer Center. “For both breast and bowel tumors, we are seeing the diagnosis being a little later, unfortunately.”

In addition to the lack of exams, the long months of quarantine made everyone eat more than usual. “In the pandemic, everyone became more sedentary, gained weight”, says Dr. Marina. According to her, recent studies prove that the ratio of waist circumference, known as a factor that increases heart risk, also increases the risk of breast cancer.

cancer prevention, explains Dr. Solange, is risk reduction. “There is no way to guarantee that these measures will protect you from getting cancer”, he says, explaining that the earlier the diagnosis, the more treatable the tumor. “But we know that certain habits can increase the risks.” And what to do concretely in your day to day? Here are some tips – you can also listen to them on podcast I have cancer. And now?.

  1. keep exams up to date

Dr. Marina Sahade suggests setting aside one month a year as “exam month”. “It’s a chance not to forget,” she says. “These screening tests, like colonoscopy and mammography they are too important, it is a change in mentality that we have to make”. Yes, we know that mammography is boring and painful, but it is extremely necessary for the diagnosis of breast cancer. “I as a woman agree with you: it’s a boring test, it hurts, but it’s fast,” explains Dr. Solange. And it is also irreplaceable: ultrasound, for example, is a complementary exam.

“THE mammography it’s like an X-ray of the breast. It manages to pick up density changes”, he explains. “Our goal with breast cancer screening is to catch tumors smaller than 1 centimeter, to catch small marks, small lesions that are not sensitive to touch”, he says. This way, the treatment will be much lighter – in many cases, without the need to undergo chemotherapy.

Mammography exam is boring but critical in diagnosis. Photo Rafael Arbex/Estadão

If you’re already 40 years old and haven’t had a mammogram, do it now (you can go back to the text later, hurry up, call your doctor). This is the age recommended by doctors, although the SUS indicates that the test is only done after 50 – there is even a bill in progress to change this guideline to 40 years. If you have cases in the family, you may even do it before: I had my first one at 35. “Mammograms save lives”, says Dr. Solange, who warns: 15% to 20% of breast cancers are diagnosed in women under 50 years of age.

2. Self knowledge is power

Touch your body, look in the mirror, watch for signs. A mole that has increased in size, for example, can trigger an alert. Don’t be ashamed to look at yourself, touch yourself, or compare your body to others. This self-care, this self-love is fundamental.

In my case, how I already told you here, I noticed that there was something different about my left breast looking in the mirror. It looked like a small pimple, an insect bite, but I decided to do the self-examination, which revealed that there was a lump there. I admit it: my exams were quite late. “O self exam it does not replace mammography. For the nodule to be palpable, it will already have 1 cm or more”, explains Dr. Solange.

Mine, for example, was already 1.2 centimeters long. A small lump, but it once required surgery and chemotherapy. If I had taken it before, it’s likely I wouldn’t have had to go through any of this. “When the tumor is small, the treatment is easier”, says Dr. Marina. Stay alert.

3. Get moving!

The human body was made to move. And sedentary lifestyle and obesity are known as risk factors. “A large number of tumors are linked to this issue because when there is an accumulation of fat, we have inflammatory factors in our body. And these inflammatory issues can serve as the engine, the start of a transformation to cancer,” explains Dr. Solange.

You can say “oh but I’m thin so I’m healthy”. None of that: thinness, as we all know, has nothing to do with being healthy. “O sedentary lifestyle in non-obese people it also increases the risk of cancer”, he says.

Cancer recurrence is also lower in patients who exercise. Photo Taba Benedicto/Estadão

Which doesn’t mean you need to become a “fitness muse”: set realistic goals, as Dr. Marina suggests. “Fifteen minutes of activity a day helps. You can, for example, choose to take the stairs instead of taking the elevator”, he says.

“Knife physical activity. The process of physical activity is like putting toxins out of the cell. This is so important that we know that physical activity will also benefit patients who have cancer”, warns Dr. Solange. “We have studies showing that cancer recurrence is lower in patients who exercise.”

4. Attention to external factors

We know that external factors are also agents that can increase risks. Cigarettes are the best known of them, but there are others. The sun, for example, is so necessary for vitamin D in our body: if we overexpose ourselves, we know there is a risk of skin cancer. “External factors can bring about changes in our DNA and increase the risk of different types of tumors,” explains Dr. Solange.

Prefer natural foods to processed foods. Photo NRD/

Food is another extremely important factor. “We know that foods that are heavily processed, with dyes and preservatives, are not good for health. A balanced diet, with good fats, good carbohydrates, protein, that the vitamin is from the market, and not from the pharmacy, is a very important point.”

5. Talk to other women (especially in your family)

Cancer is still taboo in many families, who prefer not to name the disease. Thus, many people end up not knowing that a grandmother or an aunt had cancer – and, thus, they end up not telling the doctor, who could ask for a mammogram before they are 40 years old. Don’t follow the sequence of silence: ask about the history of the women in your family.

Outside the home, talk to other women, exchange ideas, experiences, symptoms, doubts, bodily changes: knowledge is to be shared.

It was pthat’s exactly what I made this blog.

Shall we continue this conversation on Twitter? Follow me: @adrikka