Almost half of cancer deaths connected to preventable factors: Study
A new study has revealed that smoking, being overweight, abusing alcohol, and other risk factors are responsible for almost half of all cancer deaths worldwide.
Nearly half of deaths due to cancer can be linked to preventable risk factors, including the three leading risks: smoking, abusing alcohol consumption or having a high body mass index, according to a new study.
The research was published Thursday in The Lancet journal and revealed that 44.4 percent of all cancer deaths and 42 percent of healthy years lost could be attributable to risk factors that can be prevented.
"To our knowledge, this study represents the largest effort to date to determine the global burden of cancer attributable to risk factors, and it contributes to a growing body of evidence aimed at estimating the risk-attributable burden for specific cancers nationally, internationally, and globally," Dr. Chris Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, and his colleagues wrote in the study.
The research analyzed the link between risk factors and cancer, the second leading cause of death globally, using information from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation's Global Burden of Disease project.
It collects and analyzes global data on disability and deaths. Murray and his colleagues zeroed in on cancer deaths and disability across 204 countries from 2010 to 2019 and examined 23 cancer types and 34 risk factors.
Tracheal, bronchus and lung cancer for both men and women are the leading cancers in terms of risk-attributable deaths globally in 2019, the researchers found.
The data revealed that risk-attributable cancer deaths are mounting, as they increased by 20.4 percent worldwide from 2010 to 2019. In 2019, the leading five regions in terms of risk-attributable death rates were central Europe, North America, East Asia, Western Europe, and southern Latin America.
"These findings highlight that a substantial proportion of cancer burden globally has potential for prevention through interventions aimed at reducing exposure to known cancer risk factors but also that a large proportion of cancer burden might not be avoidable through control of the risk factors currently estimated," the researchers wrote. "Thus, cancer risk reduction efforts must be coupled with comprehensive cancer control strategies that include efforts to support early diagnosis and effective treatment."
In an email to CNN, Dr. William Dahut, chief scientific officer for the American Cancer Society, wrote that the new study "clearly delineates" the importance of primary cancer prevention, although he did not take part in the new research.
"Modifying behavior could lead to millions more lives saved greatly overshadowing the impact of any drug ever approved," he wrote, adding, "The continued impact of tobacco despite approximately 65 years of a linkage to cancer remains very problematic."
Dahut noted that although tobacco in the United States is used less than in other countries, cancer deaths linked to tobacco continue to be a major problem and disproportionately impact certain states.
The International Journal of Cancer published a separate study earlier this month, which revealed that the estimated proportion of cancer deaths in 2019 attributable to smoking in adults between 25 and 79 years old ranged from 16.5 percent in Utah to 37.8 percent in Kentucky. The estimated total lost earnings due to cigarette smoking-attributable cancer deaths ranged from $32.2 million in Wyoming to $1.6 billion in California.
"In addition, it is no secret that alcohol use as well as the dramatic increase in the median BMI will lead to significant numbers of preventable cancer deaths," Dahut added. "Finally, cancer screening is particularly important in those at increased risk as we move to a world where screening is precision based and adaptable."
An editorial that was published alongside the new study in The Lancet showed that preventable risk factors associated with cancer tend to be patterned according to poverty.
"Poverty influences the environments in which people live, and those environments shape the lifestyle decisions that people are able to make. Action to prevent cancer requires concerted effort within and outside the health sector. This action includes specific policies focused on reducing exposure to cancer-causing risk factors, such as tobacco and alcohol use, and access to vaccinations that prevent cancer-causing infections, including hepatitis B and HPV," the editorial said.
"The primary prevention of cancer through eradication or mitigation of modifiable risk factors is our best hope of reducing the future burden of cancer," it added.
"Reducing this burden will improve health and wellbeing, and alleviate the compounding effects on humans and the fiscal resourcing pressure within cancer services and the wider health sector."