The media release from the Washington University School of Medicine, yesterday, on our review of the potential to prevent cancer and barriers slowing our progress in acting on what we already know. (For article link here)
Colditz, Wolin, and Gehlert collaborate on a number of cancer prevention projects through Siteman Cancer Center Prevention and Control Program.
More than half of all cancer is preventable, and society has the knowledge to act on this information today, according to Washington University public health researchers at the Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis.
In a review article published in Science Translational Medicine March 28, 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,” 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. “It’s time we made an investment in implementing what we know.”
What we know, according to Colditz and his co-authors, 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.
But 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 to implementing broad cancer prevention strategies are:
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,” says co-author Sarah J. Gehlert, PhD, the E. Desmond Lee Professor of Racial and Ethnic Diversity at the Brown School of Social Work and the School of Medicine. “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.”