Subscribe to Clinical Compass™ Volume 4, Issue 3 - February 10, 2009

February Is National Cancer Prevention Month

by Kara Gobron, PhD

Cancer affects 1 in 2 men during their lifetime in the United States, and more than 1 in 3 women.(1) Much of the suffering and death from cancer could be prevented by more systematic efforts to reduce the use of tobacco products, to improve diets (specifically to reduce obesity) and increase physical activity, to reduce sun exposure, and to expand the use of established screening tests.(2) About 5% of all cancers are strongly hereditary. This means that the remaining cancers are the result of damage to genes (mutations or alterations) that occur over one’s lifetime. These may result from internal factors like hormones or cellular metabolism or external factors like exposure to tobacco, chemicals, or sunlight.(1)

From 1991 to 2003 there was a 40% reduction in male cancer deaths attributed to the decline in smoking. The American Cancer Society has set nationwide objectives and goals to prevent and decrease the number of cancer cases by 2015. The overall goals are a 50% reduction in age-adjusted cancer mortality rates, a 25% reduction in age-adjusted cancer incidence rates, and measurable improvement in quality of life from the time of diagnosis through the balance of their lives for all cancer survivors.(2)

In order to achieve this, the nationwide objectives call for reducing current cigarette smokers to 12% of adults 18 and older and 10% of those under 18. There also needs to be a reversal of the current trend toward overweight and obesity that would supercede the 2005 levels. Physical activity needs to be increased and 70% of patients need to follow the American Cancer Society Guidelines on this, as well as on the consumption of fruits and vegetables. These nutrition and physical activity guidelines also need to be stressed in schools. Sun protection is also critical to cancer prevention and therefore is a part of the nationwide objectives. There needs to be an increase of 75% among those who use a sun protection product with an SPF of 15 or higher, avoid the sun between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm, and also avoid tanning beds.(2) The American Cancer Society has put these goals and guidelines in writing.(2)

Early detection is also a priority in the fight against cancer. Regular cancer-related screening check-ups include examination of the patient, inquiries about tobacco and alcohol use, diet, physical activity, regular skin examinations, and regular screening for breast, prostate, cervical, ovarian, uterine, and colon cancer.(2)

Physicians need to stress the importance of cancer detection and prevention to their patients as part of a healthy lifestyle and should inquire about healthy habits as a possible indicator of emerging health issues. Visit and click on Clinical Compass(TM) Archives under the Communities of Practice tab for other Clinical Compass(TM) articles on cancer.

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  1. Cancer Facts and Figures 2008. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society; 2008.
  2. Cokkinides V, Bandi P, Siegel R, Ward E, Thun M. Cancer Prevention and Early Detection Facts & Figures 2008. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society; 2007.

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