Scientists Find That Half The Deaths Brought About By Cancer Could Actually Be Avoided


Statistics show that around 4.45 million cancer deaths that happen each year were actually preventable if certain measures had been taken. Smoking, drinking too much alcohol, and suffering from obesity are actually the main causes behind these preventable cancer deaths. This was seen in a new global study recently made.

This global study is a new one, and the only one right now. It found that almost 1 in 2 cancer deaths, which is around 4.45 million each year, is brought about by several risk factors that are actually preventable. The list of factors include smoking, high body mass index (BMI), and high alcohol intake.

Cancer is actually the second leading cause of death all over the world, with heart disease topping the list. This study looked into a variety of factors on a global scale. The authors talk about their discovery in detail in an article published on August 20 in The Lancet.

“This study illustrates that the burden of cancer remains an important public health challenge that is growing in magnitude around the world. Smoking continues to be the leading risk factor for cancer globally, with other substantial contributors to cancer burden varying,” said Christopher Murray, MD, DPhil, in a statement recently made.  He is co-senior author of the study as well as IHME director.

It’s crucial that the links found between preventable risk factors and cancer is finally getting the study it badly needs, said Suneel Kamath, MD. He is a medical oncologist at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. However, it must be noted that he was not involved in this study. “Technically, smoking is still the biggest cause of cancer and cancer-related death in the United States, but since that has been so well described, I think highlighting obesity and overweight is even more important,” he stated.

Cancer Deaths Brought about by Preventable Risk Factors Increased 20 Percent in the Last 10 Years

The researchers utilized data available in the 2019 Global Burden of Disease study by The Lancet. Right now, this research is the most comprehensive there is as they focused on the impact of diseases around the world. What the investigators did was examine how 34 different behavioral, metabolic, environmental like pollution and climate change, and occupational (job-related) risk factors were contributive to the deaths and ill health from the 23 cancer types.

The researchers also made estimates on the changes in cancer burden between the years 2010 and 2019 that were brought about by risk factors. They based the findings on mortality and disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), which is a measure of years of life lost to death and years lived with that certain disability.

The researchers found that between 2010 and 2019, cancer deaths due because of certain risk factors went up by 20.4 percent all over the world. This meant an increase from 3.7 million to 4.45 million. Poor health due because of cancer rose by 16.8 percent over the same period of time. This meant that the numbers rose from 89.9 million to 105 million DALYs.

Cancer Deaths Because of Preventable Risk Factors Were Higher in Wealthier Nations

In 2019, risk-attributable cancer deaths all over the world happened in a disproportionate manner. The incidents happened more in wealthier countries. These places saw a 26.5 percent increase in the cancer deaths. It also must be noted that they only accounted for 13.1 percent of the global population count.

The five regions that had the high cancer death rates because of risk factors were the following: Central Europe, East Asia, high-income North America, Southern Latin America, and Western Europe.

Smoking Remains the Top Risk Factor for Cancer Deaths All Over the World

Researchers pointed out the number one leading cause, which is smoking. This top risk factor was the culprit behind most cancer deaths, and lung and lung-related cancers. Included on the list of cancers are tracheal cancer (which begins in the windpipe) and bronchus cancer (which appears in the bronchi, which is the large airway of the lungs). These were behind  36.9 percent of all cancer deaths that were brought about by risk factors.

Lung cancer is one of the top 3 most diagnosed types of cancer. This happens to men and women. This was stated by the National Cancer Institute. In the U.S. alone, around 80 to 90 percent of lung cancer deaths are connected to smoking cigarettes. This was according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Connection Being Obese or Overweight to Cancer Risk

After smoking on the list came colon and rectum cancer. This accounted for 13.3 percent of deaths. Next on the list was esophageal cancer at 9.7 percent, and stomach cancer at 6.6 percent in men, and cervical cancer at 17.9 percent, colon and rectum cancer at 15.8 percent, and breast cancer at 11 percent in women.

“I am a little surprised by how large the number of cancer cases associated with smoking, alcohol, and obesity is, but only a little — I expected it to be large,” shared Dr. Kamath.

The link between smoking and drinking to the different types of cancer was established firmly. This was not for only lung cancer because smoking and liver cancer because of excessive drinking. The doctor said that obesity and cancer risk is a crucial factor that people oftentimes fail to consider. “The fact that obesity and overweight cause cancer is definitely new and really important to highlight,” he explained.

Overweight and Obesity Play Vital Role When It Comes to Cancer Risk in United States

The numbers were estimated in 2022, and they said that there will be 1,918,030 new cancer cases and 609,360 cancer deaths this year. This was announced by the American Cancer Society.

For Americans, obesity and overweight important factors that need to be addressed if they want to prevent cancer. That’s because 73.6 percent of Americans suffer from obesity or excess weight, said Kamath. Someone with a BMI from 25 to 29.9 is already considered overweight. Someone with a BMI of over 30, on the other hand, is already considered to be obese. As what the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute stated, BMI can be calculated. This is based on a person’s weight and height. The same formula is applied to both men and women.

“This is the main reason why life expectancy is shortening in the U.S. for the first time in a long time – we have to work on this,” said Kamath.


When It Comes to Cancer Care, Prevention is Always Better Than the Cure

“Our findings can help policymakers and researchers identify key risk factors that could be targeted in efforts to reduce deaths and ill health from cancer regionally, nationally, and globally,” explained Dr. Murray.

“As much as early detection of cancer is important, many people who have cancers that are initially caught early will go on to have progression to advanced stages and die of their cancer,” said Kamath. He also added that we can’t, unfortunately, be ever able to screen and detect all cancers types early on for everyone, he added.

“Prevention always works much better than treatment in cancer care. The best way to affect modifiable behaviors like diet, smoking, or alcohol is at a systems and policy level to guide people to choose the rights for themselves, rather than forcing something on them,” shared Kamath.

Kannath stressed on the policies made by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that require tobacco companies to cut down on the amount of nicotine found in their cigarette products as well as banning flavored cigarettes or marketing these to the younger folks. “Insurance companies or employers incentivizing weight loss with lower premiums could be another example,” he said. He also stressed that prevention strategies of that nature are very much needed in this day and age.

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