Almost half of United States cancer deaths blamed on unhealthy behaviour

Henrietta Strickland
November 24, 2017

The good news is that the rate of death from cancer in USA has decreased by 25% over the past several decades.

Herein, we estimate the PAF of cases and deaths overall (excluding nonmelanoma skin cancers) and for 26 cancer types, in adults aged 30 years and older in 2014, attributable to potentially modifiable risk factors using nationally representative data on exposure prevalence and cancer occurrence. The study appears online in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

These results, however, may underestimate the overall proportion of cancers attributable to modifiable factors, because the impact of all established risk factors could not be quantified, and many likely modifiable risk factors are not yet firmly established as causal.

About four in 10 cancers in the United States are due to lifestyle choices - such as smoking and eating poorly - and other risks that might be avoidable, researchers said Tuesday.

"Increasing access to preventive health care and awareness about preventive measures should be part of any comprehensive strategy for broad and equitable implementation of known interventions to accelerate progress against cancer", read their statement.

A British study conducted in 1981 attributed more than two-thirds of cancer deaths to these factors.

"The results indicated that we can prevent a substantial proportion of cancers with the help of behavior and prevention strategies", said lead study author Dr. Farhad Islami, Strategic Director of Cancer Surveillance Research at the American Cancer Society.

To perform a contemporary analysis of modifiable factors' contribution to cancer burden, the authors used published risk factor data from the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research.

Researchers found an estimated 42% of the 1.57 million cancer cases in the US three years ago were linked to preventable risk factors.

UV radiation was estimated to cause 4.7 percent of cancers and 1.5 percent of deaths. Other cancers for which preventable factors accounted for at least three-fourths of total case volume included cutaneous melanoma (95.1%), anal cancer (88.2%), lung cancer (85.8%), laryngeal cancer (83.2%), and oropharyngeal/nasal cavity/paranasal sinus cancers (77.9%).

Lung cancer had the highest number of cancer cases (184,970) and deaths (132,960) attributable to evaluated risk factors, followed by colorectal cancer (76,910 cases and 28,290 deaths). For men, melanoma came next (45,120 cases), followed by colorectal cancer (43,080), and bladder cancer (28,050).

Six infections were also among the list of risk factors, they include helicobacter pylori, hepatitis B virus, hepatitis C virus, herpes, HIV and HPV.

"This report underscores how important it is to focus on healthy behaviours and healthy public policies to reduce the number of people hearing the words "you have cancer" each year", Dr. Leah Smith, an epidemiologist at the Canadian Cancer Society, said in a statement. Excess body weight accounted for 6.5% of all cancer deaths.

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