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Half of US Cancer Deaths Avoidable, ‘Alarming’ Study Says

Four in 10 cancer cases and half of all adult cancer deaths in the United States could be avoided, new research indicates. The researchers say their findings demonstrate an urgent need for more effective interventions and access to preventive health care.

Roughly 1.8 million new cancer cases are diagnosed in the U.S. every year, with roughly 600,000 deaths, according to the American Cancer Society. Cancer can affect anyone, but our risk of developing the disease can be greatly increased by a number of environmental and lifestyle factors.

Now, new research from the cancer society has revealed that hundreds of thousands of cancer cases could be avoided by changing these modifiable risk factors.

A man is pictured receiving chemotherapy. According to new data, 40 percent of adult cancer cases in the U.S. may be due to modifiable risk factors.


The team used nationally representative data to assess the proportion of cancer cases and deaths that were attributable to potentially modifiable risk factors, including smoking, secondhand smoke, excess body weight, alcohol consumption, poor diet, physical inactivity, ultraviolet (UV) radiation and infection with viruses known to cause cancer, like HPV.

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In total, their results showed that in 2019, 713,340 cancer cases and 262,120 cancer deaths in U.S. adults over 30 could have been attributed to modifiable risk factors and, therefore, avoided.

Cigarette smoking was by far the worst culprit, contributing to 56 percent of all potentially preventable cancers in men and 39.9 percent in women.

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“Despite considerable declines in smoking prevalence during the past few decades, the number of lung cancer deaths attributable to cigarette smoking in the United States is alarming,” said Farhad Islami, senior scientific director of cancer disparity research at the cancer society and the report’s lead author, in a statement.

“This finding underscores the importance of implementing comprehensive tobacco control policies in each state to promote smoking cessation, as well as heightened efforts to increase screening for early detection of lung cancer, when treatment could be more effective,” Islami said.

After cigarette smoking, excess body weight was No. 2, contributing to 7.6 percent, followed by alcohol consumption at 5.4 percent and UV radiation at 4.6.

Certain types of cancer were more likely to be caused by modifiable risk factors, with 100 percent of cervical cancer cases, 80 percent of melanomas and 99 percent of lung cancers potentially avoidable. By contrast, only 4.9 percent of ovarian cancer cases were likely influenced by these modifiable risk factors.

“These findings show there is a continued need to increase equitable access to preventive health care and awareness about preventive measures,” said Ahmedin Jemal, senior vice president of surveillance and health equity science at the cancer society and senior author of the study, in the statement.

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