Cancer

Overview 
The health promotion and disease prevention directorate aims to reduce cancer prevalence- by educating, campaigning and promoting means of cancer prevention. By following the National Cancer Plan for Malta and working with stakeholders, NGO’s and health care professionals, to improve cancer prevention and awareness in Malta. 

What is cancer?
Cancer is a disease caused when cells become abnormal and spread to other parts of the body through tissues and organs. Our body is made up of trillions of cells. Sometimes these cells can malfunction and become ‘bad’ or abnormal. Usually, the abnormal cells are destroyed by the healthy cells. 
However, sometimes the abnormal cells can multiply, creating more abnormal cells which then spread (metastasize) to other areas of the body. 
These abnormal ‘bad’ cells are called cancer cells. 
When a lot of cancer cells group together and form a mass, it is known as a tumour. Tumours can be both malignant (cancerous) and benign (non-cancerous). 
There are more than 100 types of cancer. Cancer can occur anywhere in the body, as we have cells everywhere. 
For more detailed information on what cancer is and how it spreads, please refer to the resources section

Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms can vary depending on the type of cancer, area of the body and the severity of the cancer. Some people may not have any symptoms or only have one. Every cancer case presents differently. 
However, evidence shows there are some common signs and symptoms for cancer to look out for, which are the following:
•    A lump or swelling in any part of the body
•    Sudden weight loss or gain with no explanation
•    A wound/sore that won’t heal
•    Changes in bowel or bladder habits without explanation
•    Difficulty swallowing
•    Abnormal bleeding or discharge
•    A persistent cough or sore throat
•    Unexplained extreme tiredness or fatigue
If you have one or more of these signs/ symptoms it does not mean you have cancer. However, early diagnosis is vital in cancer care- if you are suffering from any of these symptoms please contact your family doctor for further information, care and testing. 

Risk Factors & Prevention
Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the world. 
However, studies show more than 60% of cancers can be prevented.
Several risk factors have been associated with causing cancer and increasing your risk. Although some cannot be prevented such as age and family history, most risk factors are preventable, such as diet and weight.
Cancer screening programmes have also proven to help cancer prognosis, as cancer is caught early on and treated quickly, improving outcomes. Cancer screening programmes currently available in Malta are breast, colorectal and cervical. More information on screening can be found here. 
The best way to reduce your chances of cancers is to follow the
European Code Against Cancer (WHO) -12 ways to reduce cancer risk.
More resources for cancer prevention can be found here.

The best way to reduce your chances of cancers is to follow the: 
European Code Against Cancer (WHO)- 12 ways to reduce cancer risk

1.    Do not smoke. Do not use any form of tobacco.
For more information on smoking click here  

2.    Make your home smoke free. Support smoke-free policies in your workplace. 
For more information on smoking click here 
Help to stop smoking can be found here

3.     Take action to be a healthy body weight.
For more information on our weight-loss programme click here

4.    Be physically active in everyday life. Limit the time you spend sitting.
Information on obesity and physical activity can be found here 

5.    Have a healthy diet: 
Eat plenty of whole grains, pulses, vegetables and fruits.
Limit high-calorie foods (foods high in sugar or fat) and avoid sugary drinks. Avoid processed meat; limit red meat and foods high in salt.

Diet and nutrition information can be found here 

6.    If you drink alcohol of any type, limit your intake. Not drinking alcohol is better for cancer prevention.

Learn more about the dangers of alcohol here 

7.    Avoid too much sun, especially for children. Use sun protection. Do not use sunbeds. 

Information on the dangers of too much UV can be found here 

8.    In the workplace, protect yourself against cancer-causing substances by following health and safety instructions.

More information on workplace safety can be found here  

9.    Take action to reduce high radon levels.

Some countries have high radon levels in their buildings, which can increase cancer risk. 
This does not apply in Malta, as our radon levels are very low. 

10.     For women: 
Breastfeeding reduces the mother’s cancer risk. If you can, breastfeed your baby.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) increases the risk of certain cancers.
Limit use of HRT.

Learn more about breastfeeding here 
The National Breastfeeding Policy can be found here 

11.     Ensure your children take part in vaccination programmes for:
Hepatitis B (for newborns) 
Human papillomavirus (HPV) 

National Immunization Schedule can be found here 
Learn more about infectious diseases here

12.     Take part in organised cancer screening programmes for:
Bowel cancer (men and women)
Breast cancer (women)
Cervical cancer (women)

Visit the National Screening Centre’s website here

 

Living with cancer
Being diagnosed or caring for someone who has been diagnosed with cancer can be very difficult. As a chronic condition (long term), it can affect many areas of your life not just your physical health, but your emotional and mental health also. At HPDP we strive to help persons with cancer as well as survivors and carers to improve wellbeing and maintain a good quality of life. 
By providing Resilience programmes, to improve mental and emotional health, and Self-Management programmes, to learn key skills to help manage your condition and the struggles that come with it.
Also, by working closely with stakeholders and NGOs to improve cancer care, after care, survivorship, resilience and awareness across Malta. 

Cancer and Work 
Working when you are diagnosed, being treated or recovering from cancer can be difficult. However, having cancer does not mean you must stop working. Work can help you maintain a routine and a sense of normality, as well as help financially. The Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Directorate collaborate closely with workplaces to improve health at work. 
Our Self-Management and Resilience programmes can help you build skills to better manage your work life. 
The Public Service also provides an Employee Support Programme, offering free and confidential support and guidance for both employers and employees.
Although many things can be done to continue working -such as sharing the ECL Handbook for Employers to help them navigate your situation or by making arrangements such as working from home or flexible hours- it is also ok to stop working if you are unable. Information on vacation leave entitlement, sick leave entitlement and other benefits can be found at servizz.gov.  
More information on cancer and working can be found in our resource section here.