Policy ForumCancer Research

Cancer prevention: Molecular and epidemiologic consensus

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Science  28 Sep 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6409, pp. 1317-1318
DOI: 10.1126/science.aau3830

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Prevention of any disease can occur at two levels: (i) avoiding or reducing risk factors coupled with increases in protective factors (primary prevention, which is preferable when it can be practiced) and (ii) detection and intervention early in the course of disease evolution (secondary prevention). But despite substantial epidemiologic data showing that a large proportion of cancers and cancer deaths are preventable, decreases in cancer mortality rates in developed countries have lagged far behind decreases in mortality rates from heart disease (1), another major disease amenable to prevention (for example, 18 versus 68% decrease, respectively, between 1969 and 2013 in the United States) (2). We believe that one main factor explaining the relatively modest reduction in mortality is the limited support for cancer prevention research, which receives only 2 to 9% of global cancer research funding (3). As a United Nations (UN) High-Level Meeting begins this week to review efforts to combat noncommunicable diseases, a key question is how to prioritize resources to realize the potential of cancer prevention.