What is cancer?

Cancer is a disease that effects people from all across the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cancer was one of the primary causes of death in 2020, despite all of the research and development that has gone into the disease over the past few decades.

Cancer is a condition where cells in a specific part of the body grow and reproduce uncontrollably. Cancerous cells can invade and destroy surrounding healthy tissue, including organs. Cancer sometimes begins in one part of the body before spreading to other areas. This process is known as metastasis.

Which types of cancer are expected to increase in the coming years?

According to scientific forecasts, an increase in cases of breast cancer, melanoma, lung and colorectal cancer are all expected in the future. We have also been witnessing an increase in the number of younger patients with breast cancer and colorectal cancer, something that we would not usually see in the past.

Can you explain what specialities an Oncologist covers?

Oncologists specialise in how to correctly handle drugs for specific types of cancer, how to sequence treatment, how to prescribe therapies for specific patients, how to identify toxicities and treat symptoms, all of this while balancing the needs of the patient with their quality of life.

What symptoms may lead to an initial appointment?

An appointment with an Oncologist is only recommended once there is a diagnosis. For example, in the case of a suspected skin lesion, patients should first visit their Dermatologist and, only after a biopsy and proven diagnosis, should an appointment with an Oncologist by scheduled.

Oncology is a specialty dedicated to the treatment of cancer after diagnosis. This being said, we are often involved in a patient’s diagnostic process.

What happens next?

Every first consultation is unique and usually begins with the patient actively seeking treatment.

During the initial consultation we first identify the biological problem, before checking at what stage cancer has reached. Based on this we then look for the gold standard in care and treatment in each specific situation and then integrate these findings with each individual’s unique case.

It is important to understand far more than just the diagnosis, the specialist must also understand the patient as an individual, including their weaknesses and co-morbidities, to then manage expectations and explain risks that may be involved with the treatment.

At this point we propose possible therapies and consult with other colleagues, specialists in other areas, before speaking with the patient to make sure the entire process is clear.

Throughout the treatment process, we plan, take breaks and repeat the process all over again to decide if we should stick with the original plan or adapt it according to the clinical situation.

If prevention is the key, what can we do to reduce our risk of cancer?

It’s good to start with the basics – avoiding alcohol consumption, smoking, sedentary lifestyles and preventing obesity through a healthy lifestyle and balanced diet.

Carving out personal time is also very important, as this allows you to focus on adopting healthy choices while also enabling time in your diary to visit your doctor for regular check-ups. A visit to the doctor is always a perfect opportunity to identify potential problems early.

While lifestyle is important, it should also be remembered that genes are responsible for 10 to 50 percent of some forms of cancer, but external factors can be responsible for 80 percent of patients with a favourable genetic base.

What are your views on complementary health therapies?

There are complementary therapies which have been approved by credible entities that may help in the treatment of cancer. One of these has been found to be mindfulness techniques which help reduce stress and nausea. However there are many others out there with little data to back them up, and contrary to what people may think, can even be harmful in some cases. For example, taking vitamin A supplements with lung cancer may be harmful, or the use of strong antioxidant supplements can, in spite of leading to fewer side effects, reduce the effectiveness of chemotherapy.

A person can buy a natural substance which has the potential to have a variety of effects but because it has not been submitted to medical standards these are not outlined clearly, unlike medication which has, listing all possible side effects. This can make it difficult for a patient to be informed fully about a natural substance and its possible side effects.

What can patients expect from the HPA Health Group?

The HPA management team combines innovative vision with a willingness to constantly improve. Every member of the team, from administrative staff to clinicians, are an important part of the entire process.

We work on several fronts and stand out for our proactive prevention and community awareness activities, including free screening campaigns that cover prostate exams (Prevent Like a Gentleman), skin tumours, lung cancer screening and colon.

We are also able to offer our patients the possibility to access new therapies.

We are a team that always work with all elements of healthcare available in the Algarve and look for integrated solutions using all the skills available, be they locally, in another part of Portugal, in public or private hospitals or even abroad.

How does the HPA Health Group invest in oncology?

In addition to the possibility to access new treatments, targeted therapies and accessing techniques which are able to prevent hair loss in patients, we are also constantly concerned in improving comfort and quality care for every patient. An example of this is the opening of a new and modern Day Care Hospital last year.

It is also important to mention the possibility of access to clinical trials in our hospital, permitting the use of very promising medication for certain pathologies.


Paula Martins is a fully qualified journalist, who finds writing a means of self-expression. She studied Journalism and Communication at University of Coimbra and recently Law in the Algarve. Press card: 8252

Paula Martins