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Lung cancer “doesn’t take a vacation” and early diagnosis can save lives

In a statement on the occasion of World Lung Cancer Day, which is celebrated on August 1st, the Careca Power Association, Pulmonale, the National Association of Pharmacies (ANF), the Portuguese Association of General and Family Medicine (APMGF) and the Portuguese Society of Pulmonology (SPP) warn of the need to act in the presence of symptoms and warn that delays in access are reflected in the diagnosis.

The director of the Medical Oncology service at the Centro Hospitalar Universitário do Porto, António Araújo, recognizes the “delays and failures” in the National Health Service (SNS) in terms of access to primary and emergency health care, stressing that these are reflected in “in diagnostic delays”.

“It is natural that during the vacation period there are even more delayed consultations and exams. Because there are already many difficulties in the SNS in terms of imaging, radiology and interventional radiology, essential for the staging of lung cancer, which often lead to delays in carrying out the exams in normal time”, considers the specialist, quoted in the statement, adding: “It is natural that in the holiday period things get worse”.

The organizations participating in this campaign recall that lung cancer is often confused with other diseases because of the symptoms – cough, sputum and shortness of breath – often “associated with more benign diseases”.

Although smoking continues to be the predominant cause of lung cancer, the incidence of the disease in non-smokers “is an important public health problem”, says António Araújo.

“The population, and even, sometimes, the family doctors themselves, end up thinking first of what is most frequent and they forget to put the possibility of lung cancer in the equation. Which often results in delays in diagnosis,” he recalls.

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In a disease that has a “reserved prognosis”, he adds, “the more advanced the stage, that is, the more advanced the tumor is, the probability of survival of the patient decreases”.

“That is why it is essential to make the diagnosis as early as possible, to increase the chances of survival”, he insists.

The specialist also reinforces that, with the new drugs that have emerged, it is possible to “give more time and a better quality of life to our patients”.

“With the advent of targeted therapy, we have been able to greatly increase survival in cases that have molecular targets that can potentially be treated, which corresponds to about 25-30% of the population with lung cancer”, he explains.

This “new therapeutic armament” is joined by immunotherapy: “it was a huge advance and a paradigm shift in the treatment of lung cancer”.

In favor of early diagnosis, António Araújo defends the creation of a screening program for lung cancer in Portugal: “There is already scientific evidence that justifies the implementation of at least a pilot screening program”.

“As early diagnosis is a fundamental weapon to give our patients a better quality of life, screening would be an extremely important tool for us to be able to diagnose patients earlier, and could also be used to promote smoking cessation. It is time for politicians to look at its implementation with interest”, he considers.

Several experts have warned that many lung, breast and digestive cancer patients are arriving at hospitals in a more advanced state because of delays in accessing health care caused by the pandemic.

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The latest data from the National Institute of Statistics on causes of death in 2020 reveal that respiratory diseases (excluding covid-19) caused 11,266 deaths.

Data from the Fundação Portuguesa do Pulmão indicate that in the first year of the pandemic, more than 5,000 new cases of lung cancer were diagnosed in Portugal.

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