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Early Diagnosis is key: Pick the weed or allow it destroy the garden?

Early Diagnosis is key: Pick the weed or allow it destroy the garden?

By Catríona Dowling, Post-Doc, RCSI

I want you to come on a journey with me where we are going to the botanic gardens. You will pick a section of the garden that is yours: yours to treasure and nourish. If a weed started to grow in that garden, would you chose to ignore the weed or would you try to remove it? And if you did leave it there, would you expect it to grow and spread or just stay as it is?

I am no Diarmuid Gavin but what I am is a cancer researcher and I am here to try and explain the benefits of cancer prevention and early diagnosis. Did you know that 50% of all cancers are preventable with 30% preventable by lifestyle changes alone? Cancer is like the weed in our bodies: we first have an obligation to nourish and protect our bodies against cancer.

However, I am fully aware that even with the greatest of care, sometimes a weed can still appear in your beautiful garden. And here is where you come in: you have the choice to recognise the weed and remove it before it has the chance to spread and do irreversible harm to your body. In order to do this, you need to educate yourself against the early signs of cancer. If cancer is detected in its early stages it allows your doctor to remove that cancer in its controlled state before it can do any more damage.

Or here is the alternative: you can choose to ignore the cancer or remain wondering is it cancer and while you are indeed ignoring or wondering, you’re giving the cancer a chance to grow and take over your body. Exactly in the same way an ignored weed in the botanic garden will continue to grow and spread until it has destroyed the beautiful garden.

90% of ovarian and breast cancer patients will survive if their cancer is detected early in comparison to 5% of patients when there is a late detection. So why ignore the weed?

Another astounding fact that has been revealed is that if us cancer researchers did no further cancer research or developed no new therapeutic therapies but people only implemented everything we already know about cancer prevention and early detection we could reduce cancer mortality by 50%.

We know things like smoking, obesity and stress, just to name a few, contribute to cancer and while we hear these facts everyday, we just don’t listen.

So yes, you do have the freedom of choice but unfortunately you are not free from the consequences of your choice.

Here are some tips to help reduce the risk of developing cancer that you should LISTEN to:

1. Don’t use tobacco.

Cigarettes contain over 4,000 chemicals, 60 of which are known to cause cancer. Smoking accounts for 1 in 4 cancer deaths and nearly a third of all cancer cases. It also accounts for 4 in 5 cases of lung cancer and half of all smokers will die from a tobacco related disease. STOP PROVIDING A LIGHT FOR THE DISEASE.

2. Eat a healthy diet.

Certain foods such as processed and red meat, and salt preserved foods can increase your risk of cancer, while others such as fruit and vegetables and foods high in fibre can help reduce the risks. Visit the Irish Cancer Society for tips on foods to include and exclude in your shopping basket:

3. Maintain a healthy weight and be physically active.

Obesity is the second biggest preventable cause of cancer, after smoking. Extra fat in the body produces excessive amounts of hormones such as oestrogen and insulin; which love to encourage the growth of cancer. It is believed that more than 1 in 20 cancers are linked to being overweight or obese. So put down the chocolate donut and put on your runners!!!!!

4. Protect yourself from the sun.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in Ireland and ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun or sunbeds is the biggest causes of skin cancer. Getting sunburn, just once every 2 years, can triple your risk of skin cancer. UV light damages the genetic material in your skin cells and if enough damage builds up over time it can cause skin cells to start growing out of control, leading to skin cancer. Thankfully our government increased the tax on sunbeds in this year’s budget! I know a nice tan is pretty but cancer won’t be so pretty!!!

5. Get immunized.

Cancer vaccines stimulate the immune system to recognize cancer cells as abnormal and destroy them. Other useful anti-cancer vaccines target viruses that can cause cancer such as Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine and Hepatitis B vaccine. For more information visit the Irish Cancer Society website:

Here are some tips to help diagnosis cancer early:

If anything feels unpleasant or unusual for YOUR body PLEASE VISIT YOUR DOCTOR.

Finally, Catríona has started her own Cancer blog and you can find out more here:

13th Jul 2018 Catríona Dowling, Post-Doc, RCSI

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