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Cancer Prevention Strategies

If more people adopted the cancer prevention efforts researchers have been preaching, the number of cancer deaths could drop dramatically over the next decade.

Researchers say that stepping up well-known cancer prevention strategies such as quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and regular cancer screening could have a dramatic impact on, not only reducing the number of people who die from cancer, but also those who develop the disease.

"Many of the behaviors that place individuals at risk for cancer are well recognized, and calls for behavior change are not new," writes researcher Susan J. Curry, PhD, of the University of Chicago. "What is new is the growing body of evidence confirming the effectiveness of intervention to help people improve their health-related behaviors."

The report, Fulfilling the Potential of Cancer Prevention and Early Detection, released by the Institute of Medicine, suggests that the number of cancer deaths could be reduced by 29% and the rate at which new cancers are diagnosed could drop by 19% by 2015 if more aggressive cancer prevention efforts were made to encourage people to adopt a healthier lifestyle.

"To save the most lives from cancer, health care providers, health plans, insurers, employers, policy makers, and researchers should be concentrating their resources on helping people to stop smoking, maintain a healthy weight and diet, exercise regularly, keep alcohol consumption at low to moderate levels, and get screened for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancer," write the authors.

Although history has shown that it's hard to get people to change their behaviors for a long period of time, researchers say there are ways that officials and healthcare providers can make it easier for people to stick with healthy habits. For example, the report recommends that state and local governments vigorously enforce existing tobacco sale laws and says higher tobacco taxes are "the single most effective method for reducing the demand for tobacco."

Researchers also call for insurance providers to cover well-proven cancer prevention and detection services, such as nicotine replacement therapy, breast cancer screening for women over 50, cervical cancer screening for all sexually active women (such as an annual Pap smear), and colorectal cancer screening for both men and women over 50.

The report also notes that since obesity and physical inactivity have recently joined unhealthy diet as leading risk factors for cancer, prevention efforts should start in childhood to help people achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Researchers say the benefits of making these types of healthy lifestyle changes would also extend to preventing other chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes. In addition, they argue that these prevention efforts might help reduce the disproportionate numbers of racial and ethnic minorities that suffer from cancer.


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