Some cancers preventable

whistleblowerKEY TAKEAWAY:Simple changes to people’s behaviors have the potential to make sure many cancers never occur. They have a side benefit of preventing health problems in many other areas, too so the question becomes “why aren’t insurers and the AMA communicating this to patients?”.

The evidence is increasingly accumulating that cancer may be preventable. A recent study published in Nature argues that there is a lot we can do to ward off cancer. Many studies have shown that environmental risk factors and exposures contribute greatly to many cancers. Diet is related to colorectal cancer. Alcohol and tobacco are related to esophageal cancer. HPV is related to cervical cancer, and hepatitis C is related to liver cancer.


Most recently, in JAMA Oncology, researchers sought to quantify how a healthful lifestyle might actually alter the risk of cancer. They identified four domains that are often noted to be related to disease prevention: smoking, drinking, obesity and exercise.

[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]They defined people who engaged in healthy levels of all of these activities as a “low risk” group.[/inlinetweet] Then they compared their risk of getting cancer with people who weren’t in this group. They included two groups of people who have been followed and studied a long time, the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, as well as national cancer statistics.

About 82 percent of women and 78 percent of men who got lung cancer might have prevented it through healthy behaviors. About 29 percent of women and 20 percent of men might have prevented colon and rectal cancer. About 30 percent of both might have prevented pancreatic cancer. Breast cancer was much less preventable: 4 percent.

[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]Over all, though, about 25 percent of cancer in women and 33 percent in men was potentially preventable. Close to half of all cancer deaths might be prevented as well[/inlinetweet].

make a difference phrase on blackboard

As we talk about cancer “moonshots” that will most likely cost billions of dollars and might not achieve results, it’s worth considering that — as in many cases — prevention is not only the cheapest course, but also the most effective.  The AMA, doctors and insurers would be better served in communicating that some cancers are preventable.