BioNTech's co-founders discuss their cancer vaccine
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There are many things that can alter someone’s chances of dying from cancer. Age, and the type of cancer play a huge role. But new research shows that the “season of diagnosis” may be important too.
A study, published in the journal Nutrients, suggests that a cancer diagnosis in summer or autumn is “associated with a better prognosis”.
The new study found the association after looking at the data from the Cancer Registry of Zurich, Zug, Schaffhausen, and Schwyz. The database contains information about more than 171,000 cancer cases that have occurred in the Swiss areas since 1980.
It found that both men and women who were diagnosed in “summer and/or autumn” with either prostate, breast, colorectal, lung cancer or melanoma, or cancer in all of these sites had an “improved survival”.
The research was observational, meaning that they spotted a pattern but don’t yet understand the underlying cause of the pattern.
However, the authors proposed that the results may have something to do with the availability of vitamin D, which is created when direct sunlight makes contact with your skin when outdoors.
Doctor Nena Karavasiloglou and colleagues wrote: “The improved seasonal survival coincides with the seasonal variation of sun-induced vitamin D, and vitamin D may play a protective and beneficial role in cancer survival.”
Vitamin D, which can be consumed as a supplement or made when the sun hits the skin, is vital for fighting off infections.
The authors point out that past studies have shown that vitamin D can also suppress cancer growth and “induce apoptosis” – also known as cell death – of cancer cells.
They wrote: “This biological evidence could explain the better survival we observed in women for all sites combined when the patients were diagnosed in summer/autumn or in men diagnosed in summer when their vitamin D levels are the highest.”
Similar results to these have been found in the UK in past studies that looked at the Thames Cancer Registry. In a 2009 study, which used this data, the long-term survival was significantly better in cancer patients diagnosed in autumn.
Doctor Karavasilogou and colleagues said: “If vitamin D turns out to improve the survival of cancer patients, this might be an easy-to-implement measure in clinical practice.”
The NHS explains that adults need 10 micrograms of vitamin D every day.
It states: “From about late March/early April to the end of September, most people should be able to make all the vitamin D they need from sunlight.
“But between October and early March, we do not make enough vitamin D from sunlight.”
Vitamin D can be consumed within your diet or through supplementation.
The health body notes some of the sources include oily fish like salmon and sardines, red meat, liver, egg yolks, and breakfast cereals.
There are many other factors that can improve the chances of surviving cancer. One of the most important things is getting an early diagnosis.
Being aware of the signs of cancer can help to spot the disease early.
The main signs of common forms of cancer include:
- Changes in your bowel habits, like blood in your poo, diarrhoea or constipation, and bloating for 3 weeks or more.
- Unexplained bleeding may be spotted when you cough, when you wee or vomit
- Lumps appearing around your body
- Having a mole that changes shape or looks uneven, changes colour, gets darker, larger, or becomes more raised from the skin or starts itching, flaking, or bleeding.
- Itchy or yellow skin
- Tiredness and generally feeling unwell with no reason
- Heartburn or acid reflux
- Tummy or back pain
- Unexplained weight loss.
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