Almost Half of Cancer Deaths Could be Preventable

By Sara Bondell - August 26, 2022

Nearly half of cancer deaths worldwide can be attributed to preventable risk factors, mainly smoking, drinking too much alcohol and increased body mass index, a new study says.

The study, published in the journal The Lancet, finds that 44.4% of cancer deaths and 42% of healthy years lost in 2019 could be attributed to preventable risk factors. Researchers analyzed the relationship between risk factors and cancer using data from the Global Burden of Disease project. They examined 23 different cancer types and 34 risk factors from 2010 to 2019 across 204 countries.

Dr. Shelley Tworoger, associate center director of Population Science
Dr. Shelley Tworoger, Population Science

“This is a very high-quality study that uses different types of data to understand how different risk factors, like smoking or obesity, are directly linked to cancer,” said Dr. Shelley Tworoger, associate center director of Population Science at Moffitt Cancer Center. “What they found is many cancers could be prevented by helping people stop smoking, drink less, lose weight and eat a healthy diet. The magnitude of this globally is very high — we could prevent more than 4 million deaths per year from cancer!”

The study also showed that risk-attributable cancer deaths have increased 20% from 2010 to 2019. In 2019, the top five regions in terms of risk-attributable deaths were central Europe, east Asia, North America, southern Latin American and Western Europe.

Separate studies have shown smoking is the most important risk factor driving cancer deaths, and although tobacco use is less in the U.S. than in other countries, tobacco-related deaths are a major problem and disproportionately impact certain states.

“At Moffitt, we are designing new strategies to help people quit smoking,” Tworoger said. “For example, our teams are developing apps that deliver smoking cessation programs. The great news is that these can be accessible to all types of people, regardless of background, to help them quit.”

Tworoger says the study highlights the importance of prevention as the best way to reduce the burden of cancer on society and individual families.

“At Moffitt, much of our prevention research focuses on two important areas. The first is what factors predict risk of cancer and cancer-related death. This new study showed that known risk factors explain nearly half of cancer deaths, but there is a lot more to learn. The second area is on how to improve prevention by designing interventions to change individual behavior, to improve health systems to focus more on prevention and to set policies that promote prevention.”

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