A new study by a leading health charity has identified that many people are unsure about whether cancer is preventable. The research looked at ten common cancers and asked if people thought they were ‘largely preventable’. The lack of knowledge could discourage many people to take steps to lead healthier lifestyles.
The findings revealed that skin cancer was perceived to be the most preventable of the ten cancers surveyed with around half of respondents (51 per cent). Lung and mouth cancer were rated the second and third largely preventable cancers, although only 41 per cent and 32 per cent of respondents, identified them as avoidable, despite their clear association with the risks of smoking.
Overall, around one in five people were unsure about whether the various cancers were preventable, with the greatest uncertainty concerning brain, testicular, prostate, bowel and liver cancers. Brain cancer was considered to the least preventable (54 per cent), followed by breast, prostate and testicular cancer (all 45 per cent).
Although cancer is not wholly preventable, the World Health Organisation states that more than 30 per cent of cancers ‘could be prevented by modifying or avoiding key risk factors’.
Other research1 also suggests cancer is a largely preventable disease if you make the right lifestyle choices. The research, carried out at the University of Texas stated ‘Only 5-10 per cent of all cancer cases can be attributed to genetic defects, whereas the remaining 90-95 per cent have their roots in the environment and lifestyle. The lifestyle factors include cigarette smoking, diet (fried foods, red meat), alcohol, sun exposure, environmental pollutants, infections, stress, obesity, and physical inactivity’.
Oral health charity the British Dental Health Foundation conducted the survey in the run up to Mouth Cancer Action Month, supported by Denplan, which begins on 1 November 2011. The findings are disappointing for some smoking related cancers such as lung and mouth cancer. Around six out of ten people did not positively identify both cancers as largely preventable.
The Foundation is hoping to raise awareness of mouth cancer, its risk factors and symptoms during the annual campaign in November. Smoking, drinking alcohol to excess, poor diet, smokeless tobacco and some sexually transmitted infections, including Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) are all known risk factors for mouth cancer, which is likely to affect 60,000 people in the UK over the next decade.
Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter, said: “There is enough evidence to suggest that many cancers are largely preventable, although it is clear that public perception indicates a confused picture and understanding. Opportunities exist for all cancer charities and health organisations to strengthen their campaign messages on risks and prevention.
“Mouth cancer is certainly one cancer where the vast majority of the 6,000 cases diagnosed each year could be avoided. Low survival rates, without early diagnosis, and facial disfigurement could all be avoided with better lifestyle choices.”
1. Anand, P., Kunnumakara, A B.,Sundaram, C., Harikumar, B., Tharakan, S T., Lai, O S., Sung, B., and Aggarwal, B B. (2008) Cancer is a Preventable Disease that requires Major Lifestyle Changes; Pharmaceutical Research, Vol. 25, No.9