Half of Cancer Deaths Are Preventable, Report Stresses

Half of Cancer Deaths Are Preventable, Report Stresses

A lifestyle that includes exercise and healthy eating can reduce your risk of a cancer death. Photo by Getty Images

If knowledge is power, then this tidbit should fire you up: More than half of the cancer deaths in the U.S. are preventable. That’s according to a weighty annual report released on Tuesday by the American Association for Cancer Research.

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“The important part here is that it points out gaps that we have in translating knowledge into action by much of the population,” Dr. Ernest Hawk, spokesperson for the AACR, told Yahoo Health. Because even though so many people already understand that behaviors from smoking to tanning can increase their cancer risks, not everyone heeds the warnings. “Part of it is human nature,” said Hawk, who also heads the division of cancer prevention at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. “But we can at least keep sharing the knowledge.” The best three-pronged approach to this end, he said, includes educating the public, improving cancer screening access throughout the population, and adopting public health policies. The policies could focus, for example, on creating smoke-free environments or restricting youth access to tanning beds.

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Chart courtesy of the AACR

The report lists some notable points about cancer prevention, including the following:

•Tobacco use is responsible for almost 30 percent of cancer deaths in the United States.

•Ultraviolet radiation from the sun and indoor tanning devices causes the majority of skin cancers.

•Developing a personalized cancer-screening plan with your physicians is part of a healthy approach to living.

•About 1 in 5 cancer diagnoses worldwide is attributable to persistent infection with a pathogen. Infection with many known cancer-causing pathogens can be prevented by vaccination or treatment with medicines.

•Up to one-third of all new cancer diagnoses in the United States is related to being overweight or obese, physical inactivity, and/or poor dietary habits.

Related: ‘Unacceptably Low’ Numbers of Adolescents Getting HPV Vaccine, CDC Reports

Other topics covered in the 122-page report include treatment updates, clinical trials and other research breakthroughs, the expanding use of genomic information, and news on the rising numbers of Americans — 4 percent of the entire population, in fact — who are cancer survivors today.

The strategy behind stressing that so many cancers are preventable, Hawk stressed, is not to blame the victim, but to try and persuade people to adopt healthier lifestyles. “No one should take away from this that you have cancer as a result of your own behaviors,” he said. “We’re only talking about 50 percent [of deaths]; people are still going to get cancer.”

Lifestyle changes such as eating more healthily, exercising regularly, and not smoking could reduce the development of cancer for more than half of the 585,000 cancer-related deaths projected for 2014, according to the report. It also notes that, in 2015, nearly 200,000 people will die of cancers related to tobacco use — and that, despite the health issues known to be connected with tobacco, nearly 800,000 people start smoking or otherwise using the drug each year.

In addition, Hawk noted, “Cervical cancer should be entirely preventable between screenings and vaccines.” While he blamed some of the disease’s persistence on this country’s “taboo about sexual contact,” the HPV vaccine is “very effective,” he said. It also reduces instances of vaginal, vulval, and penile cancers. Still, much of the country has been reluctant to embrace it for a variety of reasons. “That,” he said, “is a huge tragedy in my mind.”

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