Health Tips: More than Half of Cancer Cases are Preventable

Societal changes are needed to reduce the cancer burden.

More than half of all cancer is preventable, according to Washington University public health researchers at the Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis.

In a review published in Science Translational Medicine on March 28, the investigators outlined obstacles they say stand in the way of making a huge dent in the cancer burden of the US and around the world.

“We actually have an enormous amount of data about the causes and preventability of cancer,” says epidemiologist Graham A. Colditz, MD, DrPH, the Niess-Gain Professor at the School of Medicine and Associate Director of Prevention and Control at the Siteman Cancer Center.

Smoking alone accounts for a third of all cancer cases in the US. Excess body weight and obesity account for another 20 percent. But beyond individual habits, Colditz and co-authors 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 to implementing broad cancer prevention strategies can include:

>> Skepticism that cancer can be prevented

>> The short-term focus of cancer research

>> Intervening too late in life to prevent cancer

>> Research that focuses on treatment, not prevention

>> Debate among scientists

>> Societal factors that affect health

According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 1,638,910 new cancer cases will be diagnosed this year in the US. This year, 577,190 Americans are expected to die of cancer.