People with mental health disorders are at increased risk of developing (and dying from) cancer.

People with mental health disorders are at increased risk of developing (and dying from) cancer.

In 2020 he was diagnosed with cancer 2.7 million people in the European Union 1.3 million people lost their lives to this disease, including more than 2,000 young people. Unless we act decisively now, cancer cases will rise by 24% by 2035, making the disease the leading cause of death in Europe.

On other continents they are no better. In 2020, according to the World Health Organization, this disease was attributed approx 10 million deaths around the worldThat is approximately one in six of those registered.

Among the factors that can delay diagnosis, and thus complicate development, are mental health problems. Treating them properly can help prevent cancer. And do not forget that there is more than one 84 million people suffer from mental health problems In Europe, according to data from the Pan American Health Organization (OPS). 34% of diseases in Latin America Associated with mental health.

Chronic mental health problems make cancer less likely to be diagnosed

Primary prevention through health education, combined with secondary prevention through screening, can help save lives. However, unequal access due to health inequalities persists.

Most studies describe that social determinants generate health inequalities and thus social deprivation Reduces life expectancy In the most vulnerable groups.

The worse the mental health, the greater the tobacco consumption

Epidemiological studies suggest that many people with mental illness also have it Tobacco use disorder. It is not surprising that people with mental illness smoke a lot Rate two to four times Bigger than the general public.

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Tobacco-related diseases account for about 53% of deaths among people with schizophrenia, 48% of deaths among people with bipolar disorder, and 50% of deaths among people with depression. We have long known that smoking is directly linked to the onset of multiple diseases, including twenty different types of cancer, as described by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in its report World Cancer Report 2020. In addition, cigarette consumption is the main cause of many deaths from lung cancer. Therefore, it does not seem dangerous to conclude that LMental illnesses increase the incidence of cancer.

Healthy lifestyle habits and early detection of most physical ailments are the big things forgotten in these patients. As a result, the development of diseases such as cancer is much worse than in the rest of the population.

However, no significant assistance measures have been adopted to improve the situation of these vulnerable groups. For these reasons, WHO proposes to clarify and develop interventions and programs from primary care to provide structures of care that, from a multidisciplinary perspective, comprehensively respond to patients' needs. Promotion, prevention and treatment of mental health problems And other health problems.

For its part, the European Commission said, through Cancer mission Which is implemented through different programs (some of which are previous within Horizon 2020 And others currently inside Horizon Europe) aims to ensure that all people have the same right to comprehensive care and high-quality prevention, diagnosis and treatment services. With all this, the same hope of survival against cancer is accessible to all patients, regardless of the social status in which they live.

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Patient navigation model

One of the most promising initiatives to overcome this problem is the development of a patient navigation model. It is about creating a new figure for social and health coordination, the patient navigator, who informs and facilitates the transit through health services of people receiving mental health care for cancer prevention and early detection. This support helps in knowing how to prevent it through good lifestyle habits and in recognizing its symptoms and carrying out screening tests (breast, colon and cervical cancer) promoted by social and health services.

This is achieved specifically in Europe through the project Assistant Captain, which will be developed in Athens, Vienna, Madrid and Poland by a team of 14 partners from five European countries over the next three years. The project will combine health education and social support so that people with mental health problems are not excluded during the cancer prevention process.

Let's take, for example, a patient with an anxiety disorder and depression. His mental health problem is a priority, and he usually focuses most of his contacts on both the primary care center and the mental health center. In fact, his conversations with doctors and nurses focus on how to reduce his anxiety, fight depression, and ignore (or even accept) bad habits like smoking or an unhealthy diet.

In this case, the patient navigator will be responsible for linking public, social and health systems, including primary care, mental health and addiction services. He will certainly remember the importance of regular physical exercise, a healthy and balanced diet, as well as avoiding the consumption of alcohol, tobacco or other toxic substances to prevent cancer. It will also facilitate access to the resources and services needed for early detection of this disease.

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The ultimate goal is nothing but health equity, that is, for people to be able to develop their full potential for physical, mental and social health, regardless of their health status or other circumstances determined by social factors.

(This article was originally published on Conversation. You can read the original text here)

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