Expanding the use of proven cancer prevention and early detection strategies is one of the priority areas for research and investment recommended by the Cancer Moonshot’s Blue Ribbon Panel.1 The panel states that the goal is to “reduce cancer risk and cancer health disparities through approaches in development, testing and broad adoption of proven prevention strategies.”

Numerous cancers are preventable, but strategies to prevent them are either not accessible or not being adopted, leaving people at risk, according to the panel. Prevention can include reducing behavior that puts individuals at risk for cancer, such as smoking, as well as developing better screening techniques and interventions, such as vaccines.

Increasing access to early cancer detection and intervention, along with wider adoption of preventative strategies, can greatly reduce cancer incidence. Successfully implementing these strategies could lead to preventing as many as 300,000 cancer deaths annually, the panel reports.

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In a recent article in Trends in Cancer, Barbara Dunn, MD, PhD, of the National Institutes of Health’s Division of Cancer Prevention, Maryland, discusses the significance of cancer prevention, as well as the challenges in the field and future directions preventative measures might take.2

One of the major challenges in cancer prevention, according to Dr Dunn, is the difficulty in forecasting future events based on current knowledge. A patient may or may not develop a particular cancer regardless of their risk factors. As a result, she said, patients might be unwilling to undergo preventative treatments that carry a high burden of toxicity, or to modify their lifestyle.

Not all risk factors are controllable, and some are not widely recognized to be carcinogenic. Patients may be unwittingly exposing themselves to a number of environmental risk factors. Proximity to major highways–a source of air pollution–is linked to lower survival rates for lung cancer patients, but the link is not yet widely known in the clinical community.3

Pesticide exposure is a risk factor for a number of cancers, but patients may not always be aware of this. Spouses of agricultural pesticide applicators are at an increased risk of breast, thyroid, and ovarian cancers.4 Children and adolescents of particular ethnic origins who reside in certain geographical areas have a disproportionate risk of exposure to carcinogenic pesticides.5 In both cases, the affected population, as well as their clinicians, may be unaware of exposure risk.