More than 60 percent of all cancer
deaths could be prevented if Americans stopped smoking,
exercised more, ate healthier food and underwent recommended
cancer screenings, the American Cancer
Americans could realistically
cut the death rate in half, the report says. This year 1.368
million Americans will learn they have cancer and 563,700
will die of it.
"The American Cancer Society
estimates that in 2005, more than 168,140 cancer deaths
will be caused by tobacco use alone," the organization said
in a statement.
"In addition, scientists
estimate that approximately one third (190,090) of the 570,280
cancer deaths expected to occur in 2005 will be related
to poor nutrition, physical inactivity, overweight, obesity
and other lifestyle factors."
That totals 358,230, or 62
percent, of all cancer deaths.
"The issue is how many could
you actually pull off in reality and half doesn't seem like
a big stretch," Dr. Michael Thun, head of epidemiology for
the non-profit group, said in an interview.
"If one could eliminate tobacco
use, you would eliminate about half of cancer deaths. If
you could help people maintain a healthy body weight and
get more physical activity, that would be another 10 percent,"
"Increasing colorectal screening
and high quality mammography and Pap (tests for cervical
cancer) would contribute another fraction. It is very plausible
that one could get a 50-percent reduction."
For instance, breast cancer,
which kills 40,000 women and men in the United States every
year, can usually be easily treated if caught before it
spreads. In February a team at Harvard
Medical School calculated that if every woman aged
between 50 and 79 got a mammogram every year, it would reduce
deaths from breast cancer by 37 percent.
Colon cancer and prostate
cancer, two other top cancer killers, are also easily detected
early with proper screening.
But the single easiest way
to prevent cancer would be to stop all tobacco use, the
"What we have learned from
tobacco is that in addition to education, measures that
make a huge difference are things like increasing excise
taxes on cigarettes and the clean air laws that have been
enacted to protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke," Thun
Encouraging smokers to quit
and changing social norms about smoking have also helped
drive the nation's smoking rate below 25 percent, he said.
Tackling obesity will be
more difficult, Thun said.
"Just from a common-sense
point of view, anything which increases physical activity,
makes healthy food more available, limits access (to) and
marketing of unhealthy foods is likely to be a step in the
right direction," Thun said.
He also said schools need
to examine ways to get sugary sodas out of vending machines
and find other sources of revenue that do not threaten the
health of youngsters.
Thun said the report was
not meant to make cancer patients feel they caused their
"This says just the opposite.
The reality is things like smoking and obesity and physical
inactivity are often described as voluntary but the choices
we make are made in a social context," he said.
"In designing our communities
and our lives, we inadvertently have made a lot of choices
that work against health."