Cancer primary prevention
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Cancer prevention is defined as active measures to decrease the incidence of cancer. This can be accomplished by avoiding carcinogens or altering their metabolism, pursuing a lifestyle or diet that modifies cancer-causing factors and/or medical intervention (chemoprevention, treatment of pre-malignant lesions). The epidemiological concept of "prevention" is usually defined as either primary prevention, for people who have not been diagnosed with a particular disease, or secondary prevention, aimed at reducing recurrence or complications of a previously diagnosed illness.
Observational epidemiological studies that show associations between risk factors and specific cancers mostly serve to generate hypotheses about potential interventions that could reduce cancer incidence or morbidity. Randomized controlled trials then test whether hypotheses generated by epidemiological trials and laboratory research actually result in reduced cancer incidence and mortality. In many cases, findings from observational epidemiological studies are not confirmed by randomized controlled trials.
About a third of the twelve most common cancers worldwide are due to nine potentially modifiable risk factors. Men with cancer are twice as likely as women to have a modifiable risk factor for their disease. The nine risk factors are tobacco smoking, excessive alcohol use, diet low in fruit and vegetables, limited physical exercise, human papillomavirus infection (unsafe sex), urban air pollution, domestic use of solid fuels, and contaminated injections (hepatitis B and C).
The consensus on diet and cancer is that obesity increases the risk of developing cancer. Particular dietary practices often explain differences in cancer incidence in different countries (e.g. gastric cancer is more common in Japan, while colon cancer is more common in the United States). Studies have shown that immigrants develop the risk of their new country, often within one generation, suggesting a substantial link between diet and cancer. Whether reducing obesity in a population also reduces cancer incidence is unknown.
Despite frequent reports of particular substances (including foods) having a beneficial or detrimental effect on cancer risk, few of these have an established link to cancer. These reports are often based on studies in cultured cell media or animals. Public health recommendations cannot be made on the basis of these studies until they have been validated in an observational (or occasionally a prospective interventional) trial in humans.
Proposed dietary interventions for primary cancer risk reduction generally gain support from epidemiological association studies. Examples of such studies include reports that reduced meat consumption is associated with decreased risk of colon cancer, and reports that consumption of coffee is associated with a reduced risk of liver cancer. Studies have linked consumption of grilled meat to an increased risk of stomach cancer, colon cancer, breast cancer, and pancreatic cancer, a phenomenon which could be due to the presence of carcinogens such as benzopyrene in foods cooked at high temperatures.
Considerable research effort is now devoted to the development of vaccines to prevent infection by oncogenic infectious agents, as well as to mount an immune response against cancer-specific epitopes) and to potential venues for gene therapy for individuals with genetic mutations or polymorphisms that put them at high risk of cancer.
As reported above, a preventive human papillomavirus vaccine exists that targets certain sexually transmitted strains of human papillomavirus that are associated with the development of cervical cancer and genital warts. The only two HPV vaccines on the market as of October 2007 are Gardasil and Cervarix.
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