Testimonies from affected people about operations cancelled or postponed because of the pandemic have gone viral over the past year on social media. Today, 4 February is a date on the calendar for 2021, which should not only invite meditation as a call for awareness and mobilisation to advance cancer prevention and control. But also to make visible a disease that, along with others, seems to have vanished as a result of the media hoarding that COVID-19 has propagated. It is a day dedicated to reflection on the danger of forgetting people who face an ongoing battle.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer has estimated that approximately 19.3 million cases were diagnosed in 2020, data included in the GLOBOCAN project. Considering the consequences of the pandemic on many of the world’s health systems, the number of actual diagnoses in 2020 was lower, as stated in the SEOM report Cifras del Cáncer en España (Cancer Figures in Spain). In Spain, 276,239 cases are expected to be reached, without taking into account the factors that could influence the registration of diagnoses within the health system.
Prevention is a fundamental action to tackle the disease. The 5 most relevant negative aspects are to be avoided: On the one hand, inadequate diets in which the consumption of fruit and vegetables is ignored; leading a sedentary lifestyle; infections; alcohol consumption; smoking which triggers up to 33% of tumours globally and 22% of cancer deaths.
Another of the most important factors in the early detection of cancer is regular check-ups. It is a basic tool that allows health care and consists of two situations: pathological disease, in which work is carried out with the aim of preventing it from worsening; and when the patient is healthy. The regularity of these check-ups should be carried out every year or, at the most, every two years. This is because most anomalies are more controllable in these periods of time. However, the current health situation in Spain prevents us from being able to proceed properly to receive these check-ups, or simply to be seen by a specialist in the event of illness.
The Spanish health system was included by the WHO 20 years ago in the top 10 of the best in the world. However, the result after being put to the test in this situation – like the health systems of other countries – should serve as an indicator that there are shortcomings that increase inequalities depending on the type of illness.
World Cancer Day is therefore a particularly relevant date not to forget that this disease continues to be the cause of many deaths worldwide. Awareness-raising and prevention are linked to a health system that is capable of looking after the health of its citizens. And of course, we must remember that there are millions of people fighting cancer on a daily basis, this is not the time to let go of their hand.