Half of cancer deaths are preventable

Globally, nearly half of deaths due to cancer can be attributable to preventable risk factors, including three leading risks of smoking, drinking too much alcohol, or having a high body mass index, a new paper suggests.

According to the Lancet “, although some cancer cases are not preventable, governments can work on a population level to support an environment that minimises exposure to known cancer risk factors. Primary prevention, or the prevention of a cancer developing, is a particularly cost-effective strategy. However, it must be paired with more comprehensive efforts to address the cancer burden, including secondary prevention initiatives, such as screening programs, and ensuring adequate capacity to diagnose and treat those with cancer. As part of cancer control strategies, prevention requires identification of causal risk factors, determination of contribution to local cancer burden, and development of effective strategies for their mitigation.”

The data is not telling us the high cost of cancer treatments. At an average of $150,000, cancer treatment costs are more than four times higher than treatment for other common health conditions. The costs associated with direct cancer care are staggering for patients and their families. In 2018 cancer patients in the U.S. paid $5.6 billion out of pocket for cancer treatments, including surgical procedures, radiation treatments, and chemotherapy drugs.

Cancer also represents a significant portion of total U.S. health care spending. Approximately $183 billion was spent in the U.S. on cancer-related health care in 2015, and this amount is projected to grow to $246 billion by 2030—an increase of 34%. (Source: Fight cancer.org)

Those of us looking for one magic way to lower cancer rates are disappointed because there are many reasons why patients get cancer. However, the industry seems reluctant to address some of the preventable causes patients get cancer, such as requiring obese patients to get counseling by a dietician and working with employers to implement employee wellness programs that include exercise.

According to the National Library of Medicine, “we are in the midst of a national obesity crisis, and Americans are getting heavier. Today, about 65% of adults and 15% of children and adolescents in the U.S. are overweight or obese. The physiological mechanism causing the increase in obesity is no mystery: Americans eat more calories than they burn, and the excess energy is stored as fat.

There are also many myths around obesity:

Myth No. 1 Americans with less education and lower social status are obese.

Truth: Americans of all education and income levels are getting fatter. While obesity is more prevalent at lower education levels, Americans at all rungs on the socioeconomic ladder have been gaining weight at about the same rate since the 1980s.

Myth No. 2: Americans exercise less, partly because they work longer hours and have less free time.

Truth: Leisure time has increased over the past few decades, paid work hours have decreased, and self-reported exercise has increased (even though most Americans fall short of physical activity recommendations).

Myth No. 3: Obesity is caused by poor access to healthy food, primarily fruits and vegetables. This is because healthy food is too expensive or people live in “food deserts” where stores don’t sell fruits and vegetables.

Truth: Americans have been eating more fruits and vegetables, not less. What they haven’t done is reduce their consumption of unhealthy foods simultaneously. All types of food are more affordable and available than ever.

The main problem isn’t the lack of health information. It’s the assumption that the information will change behavior. We don’t drink soda, eat pizza, or eat ice cream because we think they’re healthy and slimming. We eat those things because we like them, despite knowing they’re fattening. That’s not the guidelines’ fault. It’s simply human nature.

Doing nothing is not an option. Drugs are not a long-term solution. It’s trying new and different approaches until we understand that prevention is the key to lowering cancer rates.