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More than half of people with head and neck cancer are diagnosed in advanced stages

More than half of people with head and neck cancer are diagnosed in advanced stages

After ten editions of the campaign LogicalAs the eleventh day begins, there is still a lot that the Portuguese should know about head and neck cancer, a disease that, according to Dr. Ana Joachim, head of the Head and Neck Cancer Study Group (GECCP), continues to occur late in most patients. . Moreover, the specialist confirms that of the 2,500 to 3,000 new cases annually in our country, “more than half of them are diagnosed at an advanced stage.”

To increase knowledge about these diseases, the 11th Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week is held – Making Meaning Campaign, an international initiative, led by GECCP in Portugal, which this year promotes the importance of three stages of prevention: primary, which involves preventing the development of head and neck cancer through activities to change high-risk behaviors and vaccination against HPV; secondary, with a focus on improving early diagnosis and treatment, through education about signs and symptoms; Third, with the aim of improving the quality of care provided to patients, preventing complications, and improving the quality of life of survivors.

We are talking about problems that, according to Dr. Anna Joachim, “unfortunately for patients, are often very obvious. The disease causes changes in vital and social functions, such as eating, speaking, and breathing. The need for tube feeding, as it is not possible to take food orally, can be a cause of shyness and social/family/professional isolation; The need to breathe due to a tracheostomy, with the accompanying limitation of speech, can also be a cause of psychological stress for the person and awkwardness for those around him; As well as the absence of teeth, often a result of surgical treatment and radiotherapy; Dependence on harmful substances, such as tobacco and alcohol, makes these survivors extremely vulnerable.

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There is a lot to be done to avoid this. Start with information. “One reason for the delay in diagnosis is the fact that warning symptoms are common in many benign and self-limited diseases. We are talking about canker sores, wounds or lesions in the mouth, sore throat, hoarseness, nosebleeds and swelling in the neck. The key is the duration of these complaints: when they last for 2-3 weeks later, it’s time to see a doctor.

Delays in diagnosis and treatment cost lives. According to the evidence, “When this type of cancer is diagnosed early, that is, in the early stages, it is much more curable, with few treatment consequences. The cure rate in initial cases ranges from 80 to 90%. In other words, out of every 10 people diagnosed at an early stage, 8 to 9 are cured (this number drops to 4 to 5 in advanced disease). This is possible only if people with symptoms turn to a doctor in a timely manner.

It is therefore necessary to raise awareness, which also includes knowledge of risk factors. “Smoking and chronic consumption of alcoholic beverages are the main risk factors for head and neck cancer. Unfortunately, these are common habits among the Portuguese population. If it is true that a decrease in smoking is expected through anti-smoking policies and information, it is also true that HPV infection (A virus transmitted through contact between mucous membranes and skin and is an important risk factor for a subtype of cancer (breast) head and neck, pharynx) is gaining more expression in our country. But we hope that we can prevent these cases in the future through the anti-oncolytic virus vaccine Human papilloma, which is part of the national vaccination plan for both sexes.”

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Warnings that this year, within the scope of the campaign, young people will be reached through media activities in about 11 schools. Last year, training activities were carried out in 16 secondary schools, allowing access to 830 students.

In addition to information sessions in schools, examinations and early diagnosis sessions will be carried out from the north to the south of the country, in hospital units and universities, trying to reach in this way the population at risk (Porto, Coimbra, Lisbon and the Algarve). This will be another opportunity to learn more about the disease and evaluate any possible symptoms.

Shows already scheduled:

  • Centro Hospitalar Universitário de São João (CHUSJ), in Porto – September 20, from 2 pm to 5 pm, in the physical space for outpatient otolaryngology consultation.
  • Life and Peace Community Centres, in Lisbon: Chelas and Quinta do Lavrado-Penha de França – September 20, from 2pm to 6pm.

There will also be an awareness raising space on the topic in Leiria on the 26th and training sessions in health centers (ACES).

Dr. Anna Joachim also takes the opportunity to draw attention to the need to improve the quality of life of patients. “Unfortunately, those who govern us and decide health policies have not yet given due value to the recovery and rehabilitation of people suffering from head and neck cancer or beyond. Proof of this is Order No. 15135/2016, legislation aimed at improving oral rehabilitation for patients with They treat head and neck cancer, which has not yet been implemented since its publication in 2016, although every year the GECCP requests clarification and action.”

The Make Sense campaign is supported by Merck and MSD.