Three quarters of cancer cases preventable

Krebsleiden are one of those crises that are rarely talked about openly – and always reluctantly – even in times like these that are less threatened by fear and decline. But cancer is exactly that: in addition to a very personal and social fate, one of the greatest challenges facing society.

Joachim Müller-Jung

Editor in the feuilleton, responsible for the “Nature and Science” department.

The “Burden 2020” study showed that four million years of life are lost each year in Germany alone due to the premature death of cancer patients. The risk of dying from a malignant tumor has been falling for years – across Europe – presumably only interrupted by the enormous burdens, risks and gaps in care that the pandemic brings with it. Reliable data on this is not yet available. However, they are resilient because they can be based on many studies and experience that were recently presented at the Prevention Congress on German Cancer Research Center presented figures on cancer risks. An estimated 75 percent, ie three quarters of all cancer deaths, could be prevented through more consistent screening and early detection of tumors. Survival often also depends on the patients not being treated in random hospitals, preferably in hospitals close to home. Therapy in oncological, certified top centers increases the probability of surviving the cancer by 26 percent. Modern, targeted treatments such as immunotherapies are often only available in such places. Everyone is required to make the right decisions early on.

However, the prevention statistics also show that not every cancer can be prevented. Once they have set out on their path of uncontrolled multiplication, many tumor cells are a force of nature in the body that is difficult to contain and often remains silent for a long time. And much of this process is still far from understood. On the contrary: research is currently in the process of understanding the many highly dynamic changes that transform a healthy body cell into a potentially dangerous cancer cell. Seen in this way, cancer research and cancer medicine are two fronts in a great human struggle that, despite all previous forecasts, will probably keep generations busy. surprises included. The discovery described in “eLife” and documented on film was sensational, for example, how cancer cells literally nest in healthy body cells in order to escape the immune system.

The most recent discovery by Heidelberg researchers, how tumors suppress the development of secondary tumors by means of a signaling substance and how the surgical removal of this primary tumor can only trigger the formation of metastases, is one of the many enormous challenges facing cancer therapy. Cancer is in so many ways an unusual, threatening companion to our existence that even if prevention is hopefully more successful, much more scientific and humanitarian inspiration – and of course funding – will be needed in the future to ensure further success in medicine and adequate support for the sick enable.

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