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U.S. Cancer Prevention Stalling?

Ominous Plateau in Prevention Trends, Cancer Society Warns
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

April 22, 2008 -- Some important U.S. cancer-prevention trends -- such as less smoking and more mammograms -- have stalled, the American Cancer Society warns.

Cancer deaths are down because of huge gains made over more than a decade of cancer-prevention efforts. Far fewer Americans smoke, far more get regular cancer screening, and lots more of us use sunscreen when we're outside. The result: Fewer U.S. cancer deaths.

We may have started taking these annual gains for granted, suggests Vilma Cokkinides, PhD, the American Cancer Society's strategic director for risk factor surveillance. Cokkinides is co-author of the American Cancer Society report, Cancer Prevention & Early Detection Facts and Figures 2008.

"These trends have been very favorable in the past, saving a lot of lives," Cokkinides tells WebMD. "It is concerning we are stalling. We want to see further improvements so we can save more lives."

Cokkinides is co-author of the latest American Cancer Society report on cancer prevention. Here's what she finds scary:

  • Smoking rates for adults and teens dropped from 1997 to 2003. But they haven't gone down since then -- and 21% of adults and 23% of teens still smoke.
  • For every dollar states spend on tobacco-control programs, the tobacco industry spends $24.
  • After a decade of increase, mammography rates are slightly declining.
  • Two-thirds of women who lack health insurance have not had a mammogram within the past two years.
  • Colorectal cancer screening rates are up, but fewer than half of Americans over age 50 get screened as they should.
  • Obesity -- directly linked to many kinds of cancer -- leveled off in adults at 34% of men and 36.4% of women. But obesity rates are soaring among teens, rising from 5% to 17% in just 20 years.
  • Just over a third of U.S. kids get at least an hour of physical activity at least five days a week.
  • Only one-fifth of U.S. kids eat their fruits and vegetables as they should.
  • More than two-thirds of kids get sunburned every summer -- a risk for skin cancer later in life.

Individuals can make healthy choices. But Cokkinides says nationwide improvements in cancer risk will take nationwide efforts.

"The behaviors we track pertain to individuals, but we also need to keep in mind the background issues that drive these behaviors," she says. "So we must make social and legislative efforts to create an environment in which these healthy behaviors can happen."

Cokkinides says the American Cancer Society's goals for 2015 -- now less than seven years away -- will require community and government action, as well as expanded access to health care.

Those goals include:

  • A drop in smoking to 12% of adults and to 10% of teens.
  • Reversing trends in obesity and returning obesity rates to 2005 levels.
  • Increase physical activity so that 70% of kids get enough exercise.
  • Improve fruit and vegetable consumption so that 75% of Americans eat right.
  • Increase annual mammography rates to 90% of women age 40 and older.
  • Get 75% of Americans to use at least two sun-protection strategies.
  • Up the colorectal screening rate to 75% of people age 50 and older.
  • Get 90% of men to follow prostate-cancer screening guidelines.

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