The cards that could hold the secret to curing cancer

“The link between lung cancer and smoking is very clear, so why in other cancers that have a strong connection to smoking do we see such startling differences?” asks Pablo Fernández-Navarro, the main atlas coordinator on the Spanish side.

“That’s what’s so fantastic. If entire countries had uniform levels of mortality, the maps would be in solid colors. Since this is not the case, we now need to investigate and explain these differences, eliminating one factor after another,” Fernández-Navarro told The Telegraph.

In the case of laryngeal cancer, the Spanish epidemiologist says the map confirms that smoking is by no means the only risk factor, and that other elements must also be at work, from the consumption of alcohol to levels of pollutants such as asbestos or petrochemicals in the environment. .

“It would be interesting to see the results with the impact of filtered tobacco. There are clearly so many factors at play,” adds Fernández-Navarro.

In 2016, teams of researchers from Spain’s Carlos III National Health Institute and its Portuguese counterpart, the Dr. Ricardo Jorge Institute, began working on the idea of ​​producing the Iberian Atlas of Cancer Mortality , the first known international cancer atlas based on data that goes down to the municipal level, as opposed to a flat national comparison.

Their raw material looked at 840,000 deaths from 10 types of cancer in the Iberian Peninsula between 2003 and 2012, but the challenge was to harmonize data between areas of the council that are of different size and take into account the impact of age.

“After a few years of work, we started to understand why no one had done it before,” Fernández-Navarro jokes about the difficulties of merging data.

“But we are convinced that the use of this atlas will have an impact on reducing cancer deaths”, adds Carlos Matius Dias, Portugal’s chief coordinator.

“The goal is to develop a better understanding of risk factors, which stem from individuals’ lifestyle choices, environmental factors, and accessibility to health care and treatment,” says Dias. Individuals have a genetic predisposition to certain types of cancer, but the scope of the study means environmental impacts and regional variations in lifestyles will be felt, say the scientists behind the Atlas Iberian Cancer Mortality.

For example, Dias says Portugal’s significantly higher mortality risk from prostate and stomach cancers is a major concern for his country‘s health authorities. Excluding age, not much is known about risk factors for prostate cancer, and the marked cross-border difference in this case may be related to different approaches to prevention in different countries. Spanish and Portuguese health systems.

“With prostate cancer, we know that screening is essential. A person’s survival largely depends on early detection,” says Fernández-Navarro. Similarly, experts believe that access to treatment may play a role in explaining the higher breast cancer death rate observed on both sides of the border in the poorer regions of southern Spain and from Portugal.

“Geographical patterns help generate new hypotheses, both about the causes of a cancer and about its clinical treatment,” explains Professor Marina Pollán, director of the Spanish National Center for Epidemiology. Finding out why patients in southern Portugal and southwestern Spain suffer from higher breast cancer mortality than their compatriots could provide vital clues to prevent death from the most common cancer among women in the world. world.

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