As part of World Cancer Day on 4 February, we went to HPA Saúde in Alvor to speak to Dr Magda Cordeiro, a medical oncologist, who clarified three fundamental questions about cancer.


As far as cancer is concerned, only 10 percent of cases are caused by hereditary factors. This means that 90 percent of diseases are caused by bad habits. If we manage to improve our lifestyle, we are doing very well at preventing cancer and there is a high probability that we will avoid it. The odds are in our favour.

How can we prevent it? According to the doctor, there are basic recommendations that are in our hands. "Eat a proper diet, rich in vegetables, fruit, plenty of hydration, avoid pork and processed meats, maintain a proper weight, exercise, stop smoking, moderate alcohol consumption, protect yourself from the sun, get vaccinated against hepatitis B or HPV, etc."

"These are factors that we can control and in this way we are already preventing the risk of cancer. It's in our hands, we've done our bit if we follow it," said Dr Magda Cordeiro.

Early detection

On the other hand, when prevention is no longer possible, early detection saves lives because it allows us to diagnose cancer at a very early stage, when it is curable. "If the cancer is located in just one organ and is small, we can remove the tumour surgically and the person is free of the disease," she said.

What can we do that is within our power? "Comply with the screening programmes: for breast cancer, prostate, cervical and colorectal cancer and now lung cancer, which is going to be implemented soon. As for the other cancers that aren't in the screening programmes, we can comply with the follow-up programmes and have regular check-ups from a certain age, go to institutions that we trust with the services available."

Regarding check-ups, I asked when would be the best time to have one. "It depends a lot on whether the person is healthy, whether they have any specific symptoms and their age. Of course, a 20-year-old doesn't need to go for regular check-ups unless they have a symptom. Those in their 30s and 40s should go regularly. It always depends on age and symptoms. But from the age of 30 you should have your blood analysed once a year, depending on your profession, weight and physical activity."

With the implementation of screening programmes, doctors are increasingly able to detect cancer at earlier stages, which has saved many lives. That's why we shouldn't disregard screening as a powerful weapon in the fight against cancer.


This is another key tool that we as a society should invest in, because only in this way will we be able to create innovative treatments to guarantee a higher survival rate, especially for more serious illnesses. "Research must be promoted," Dr Magda added.

"There's a team of dedicated technicians who allow us to integrate innovative treatments into our therapies, which has helped us in turning this disease into a chronic illness. In lung cancer, which is one of the most common, we've gone from a five-year survival rate of 5 percent to 10 percent - it doesn't sound like much, but it's a lot of people, it's a significant percentage." This means that when a cure isn't possible, we can increase life expectancy with quality of life.

"Many patients have benefited from these new treatments, such as immunotherapy, which has given us super-extensive responses and survival rates. Not only in the advanced stages of cancer, but also in the earliest stages of the disease, which has allowed patients to live much longer. We've gone from treating all patients in the same way to precision medicine orientated towards the patient's molecular biology. We are no longer fighting cancer in general, but the cancer of that specific person."

Although the doctor stressed that "promoting research is not always easy, we still have the task of raising awareness in our organisations and enabling some good medicines to become accessible".

For further information, please visit HPA Health website at


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