Washington: More than half of all cancer is preventable and society has the knowledge to act on this information today, a new study has claimed.
In the new study, conducted by Washington University public health researchers at the Siteman Cancer Centre in St. Louis, the investigators outline obstacles they say stand in the way of making a huge dent in the cancer burden in the United States and around the world.
“We actually have an enormous amount of data about the causes and preventability of cancer,” Graham A. Colditz, associate director of prevention and control at the Siteman Cancer Centre, said.
“It’s time we made an investment in implementing what we know,” he said.
According to Colditz and his co-authors, what we know is that lifestyle choices people make and that society can influence in a number of ways, from tobacco use to diet and exercise, play a significant role in causing cancer.
Specifically, the researchers cite data demonstrating that smoking alone is responsible for a third of all cancer cases in the United States. Excess body weight and obesity account for another 20 percent.
However, beyond individual habits, they argue that the structure of society itself — from medical research funding to building design and food subsidies — influences the extent of the cancer burden and can be changed to reduce it.
The obstacles they see to implementing broad cancer prevention strategies are scepticism that cancer can be prevented, short-term focus of cancer research, intervening too late in life to prevent cancer, research focussing on treatment, not prevention and many others.
According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 1,638,910 new cancer cases will be diagnosed this year in the United States. Also this year, 577,190 Americans are expected to die of cancer.
Only heart disease kills more people in this country. And Colditz`s research has shown that these cancer prevention strategies would reduce the burden of heart disease and other chronic conditions as well.
Despite the obstacles, Colditz and his colleagues point to some successes that they say demonstrate that broad change is possible.
One example is the relatively quick elimination of unhealthy trans fats from the national diet. And the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has reported that lung cancer rates are declining in both men and women, supporting the benefits of tighter tobacco control policy.
“After working in public health for 25 years, I’ve learned that if we want to change health, we need to change policy,” Sarah J. Gehlert, co-author of the study, said.
“Stricter tobacco policy is a good example. But we can’t make policy change on our own. We can tell the story, but it requires a critical mass of people to talk more forcefully about the need for change,” she added.
The study has been published in Science Translational Medicine.