«After healing from cancer, women who endured chemotherapy and hormone treatments see in running their redemption, their opportunity to go back to normality»Paolo Veronesi, full professor of surgery at the University of Milan, director of the Senology Program and of the surgical senology division at the European Institute of Oncology in Milan
Information on the various types of cancer is the first line of defense against this all-encompassing disease, and it is for this reason that associations and doctors band together to raise awareness about it. The Umberto Veronesi Foundation is one of the most active associations in this field, organizing events such as Pink Ambassadors.
The foundation is led by Paolo Veronesi, full professor of surgery at the University of Milan, director of the Senology Program and of the surgical senology division at the European Institute of Oncology in Milan. He deeply understands the various kinds of female cancer and all the problems that they entail.
The various kinds of female cancer
«Female tumours are common» Paolo Veronesi explains. «In particular, we registered 55.700 new breast cancer cases in 2022» he continues, saying that luckily Italy has the capability to support and help the patients in need. Breast cancer is a less serious disease than it was in the past, thanks to new technologies and new surgical practices. Globally, 90% of women with this type of cancer has a positive outcome.
There are however other female tumours that consistently affect women, such as ovarian cancer. «There are around 5.000 new cases every year, however it there are many problems when it comes to prevention, diagnosis and clinical management. It is actually difficult to prevent and at times it is complex to treat, too, even if there were advancement in the field recently» Veronesi says.
Then there are uterine tumours. The uterus is divided in two, the cervix and the body of the uterus. Each of these two parts can be targeted by the disease. Cervix cancer is nowadays quite rare, and may be completely eradicated as it is caused by a virus, the HPV, which can be nullified by a vaccine. Tumour to the body of the uterus, often called endometrial cancer, is more common during menopause and in overweight women. Luckily it is relatively easy to cure with surgery.
Raising awareness thanks to sport
«Female tumours are a huge problem, especially for women but also for society, as they are quite common» Paolo Veronesi explains, highlighting how much they weigh on society as a whole. Apart from being devastating to the individual, cancer is a serious problem to friends and families too. Nevertheless, speaking about cancer used to be taboo. «You were forbidden from writing the word “cancer” on newspapers and journals. Those with the disease used to hide and isolate themselves from society» the professor says, who also adds that «nowadays the situation is changed, many patients speak about it even on social network. Famous people tell their experience with cancer too».
This goal was made possible both by the courage of cancer patients, and by the commitment to educating people advanced by associations and doctors. Veronesi Foundation in particular activated a project called Pink Ambassador back in 2014. The objective was that of raising awareness about the benefits physical activities has on ex-cancer patients, simultaneously educating the populace about why sports such as running and kayaking are important. «Scientific evidence says that physical activity, apart from reducing the risk of developing cancer, also lowers the probability of relapse» Veronesi says.
The Pink Ambassador project became famous thanks to the women who participated in “awareness runs”, and now these ambassadors are present in more than 20 cities and have the backing of the FIAL (Italian Federation of Athletics). «More than running just for themselves, they bring a message of hope and healing, a positive message about getting back their life and improving it, because maybe they never run before».
Doctors, trainers, patients join forces for prevention
To fight cancer there are two kinds of prevention, primary and secondary. Primary prevention focuses on preventing the onset of disease, and aims to avoid risky behaviours that may increase the probability of developing cancer. «There are certain risk factors that we may control, modify, and that depends on our lifestyle» Veronesi says, specifying that some of these risk factors are outside of our control such as familiarity and old age.
Secondary prevention consists in preemptive screening in order to act fast before the tumour can grow. «In case of breast cancer, we are already able to diagnose it very early, when it is still not invasive. With surgery, positive outcome is very close to 100%» the professor explains.
How to further the idea that prevention is better than treatment? Through the joining of forces between doctors, associations, trainers and patients. For example, the Veronesi foundation ruled that patients in the Pink Ambassador projects have to be followed by federal trainers, doctors, nutritionists and psychologists. This multidisciplinary approach has been used by doctors and surgeons specialized in oncology, such as the Breast Units. «By doing this we achieve the best possibility of overcoming cancer for patients» Veronesi concludes.