One Third Of US Cancer Cases Can Be Prevented

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

A new global policy report estimates that approximately 45 percent of colon cancer cases and 38 percent of breast cancer cases in the US are preventable through diet, physical activity and weight maintenance. The report also sets out recommendations for policies to reduce the global number of cancer cases.

The overall message of the report, Policy and Action for Cancer Prevention, published today by World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), is that all sections of society need to make public health, and cancer prevention in particular, a higher priority.

"This new report shows that about one third of the most common cancers we see in the United States could be prevented by individuals making choices to lower their cancer risk," said Tim Byers, MD, MPH, interim director of the University of Colorado Cancer Center and associate dean of the Colorado School of Public Health. "This figure does not include smoking, which alone accounts for about a third of cancers."

Those choices, in brief: Maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active and eating a plant-based diet that contains limited amounts of meat, alcohol and salt-and as always, not smoking. For many Americans, actually making these choices remains difficult, said Byers, a member of the WCRF/AICR panel. He said today's report takes the next step to identify the opportunities we have as a society to make these healthy choices easier for everyone.

"These up-to-date estimates on the proportion of cancer cases that could be prevented through diet, physical activity and weight management show us just how high the stakes are," he said. "Across the world, this equates to many millions of cancer cases that are not inevitable. We, as a society, need to act now."

Different Policy Recommendations For Different Groups

As part of the evidence-based report, thought to be the most comprehensive ever published on the subject, two independent teams of scientists systematically examined the evidence for how policy changes can influence the behaviors that affect cancer risk.

Following this, a panel of 23 world-renowned experts made a total of 48 recommendations, divided between nine different but often overlapping sectors of society—called "actor groups" in the report. These actor groups are: multinational bodies; civil society organizations; government; industry; media; schools; workplaces and institutions; health and other professionals; and people.

Among the recommendations:

* Governments should require widespread walking and cycling routes to encourage physical activity.


* Industry should give a higher priority for goods and services that encourage people to be active, particularly young people.

* The food and drinks industry should make public health an explicit priority at all stages of production.

* Schools should actively encourage physical activity and provide healthy food for children.

* Schools, workplaces and institutions should not have unhealthy foods available in vending machines.

* Health professionals should take a lead in giving the public information about public health, including cancer prevention.

* People should use independent nutrition guides and food labels to make sure the food they buy for their family is healthy.

"Estimating cancer preventability is a very complex prospect that involves making a number of assumptions," Byers said. "Having said that, the figures in this report are as good an estimate it is possible to achieve about the proportion of cancer cases that could be prevented through healthy diet, regular physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight.

"On a global level every year, there are millions of cancer cases that could have been prevented. This is why we need to act now before the situation gets even worse."

The report also includes preventability estimates for the UK (which, like the US, is considered a high-income country), as well as for China and Brazil, which respectively represent low and middle-income countries.

Policy Report Represents the Next Step

The new WCRF/AICR Policy Report is a companion document to the expert report Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective, which was published by AICR and WCRF in November of 2007. That expert report evaluated the scientific evidence from over 7000 studies and came away with 10 recommendations for lowering cancer risk.

"The 2007 expert report identified the specific choices that people can make to protect themselves against cancer, but actually making those healthy choices remains difficult for many people," said policy report panel member Shiriki Kumanyika, PhD, MPH, of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. "The policy report takes the next step - it identifies opportunities for us as a society to make those choices easier."



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