“Prevention must be based on a person’s specific risk factors”
According to an expert, too little is being done in Germany for cancer prevention. There is a lot of potential in it to push back the disease. He considers the vaccination against human papilloma viruses to be particularly crucial.
IIn the fight against increasing numbers of cancer cases worldwide, experts believe that prevention must move more into the foreground. The success of curative medicine should not hide the high number of new cancer cases, stressed the head of the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), Michael Baumann, on the occasion of World Cancer Day on Friday. “There is a lack of evidence-based, cost-effective and nationwide prevention services.” Meanwhile, digital solutions for simplified access to prevention services are becoming increasingly important.
According to the head of the Heidelberg Institute, 500,000 people across Germany are still diagnosed with cancer every year, and 200,000 die from it. The number of new cancer cases worldwide will increase from 19.3 million in 2020 to 30 million in 2030. In Germany, the number will grow to 600,000 new cases a year by the end of the decade. Although 65 percent of tumor patients – without cervical or skin cancer – lived at least five years after the cancer diagnosis, they are not protected from recurrence. According to Baumann, there were a total of four million people living with and after cancer in Germany.
Malignant neoplasms contribute four million years of life to the twelve million years of life lost every year due to car accidents, violence and cardiovascular diseases. This number shows that cancer is not only a disease that occurs in old age with a short life expectancy, but that it can also lead to death at a younger age. “Even health systems that are as well equipped as in Germany, the USA and Switzerland will not be able to cope with this.”
The frightening development can only be stopped if massive investments are made in the area of ”non-cancer wars”. Politics and society must be made aware of the issue. This seems to be of little interest because of the long time until noticeable successes. Baumann, on the other hand, emphasized: “Prevention must be thought of in the long term.”
Baumann named the vaccination against human papillomavirus (HPV) as an important prevention tool that is underestimated in Germany. When administered in adolescence, it can protect against cervical, penile and anal cancer. In Germany, where the vaccination was developed by the former DKFZ boss Harald zur Hausen, only about 40 percent of all young people are protected, in Rwanda, on the other hand, almost 100 percent. Vaccination is mandatory there.
Similar to the treatment of those who are already ill, prevention must also be more individualized. Prevention must be based on a person’s special risk factors, such as smoking, unhealthy nutrition, obesity, high alcohol consumption or lack of exercise. Around 40 percent of all new cancer cases could be avoided if people gave up cancer-promoting behavior.
Digital offers are therefore playing an increasingly important role in early detection. In the case of one of the most common but also declining forms of cancer, colon cancer, access via smartphone should be made easier. The stool sample is applied to a test cassette, which turns more or less red depending on the hemoglobin value. The result is photographed and sent to the family doctor via an app, according to the idea of the DKFZ researchers, who are currently evaluating a study on the subject.
Another example of artificial intelligence in early detection is a skin screening app developed at the DKFZ, which diagnoses abnormalities more precisely and earlier than before. Unnecessary biopsies – i.e. tissue removal – are thus avoided.
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