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Use What You Know

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US cancer rates could be halved if society applies what's already known about preventing the disease, reports Katherine Harmon at the Scientific American Observations blog. According to a review paper published by Washington University in St. Louis researchers in Science Translational Medicine more than 280,000 of the 500,000 cancer deaths in the US in 2011 could have been prevented by the application of behavioral changes based on research that has been accepted for years, Harmon says. "We actually have an enormous amount of data about the causes and preventability of cancer," said the paper's first author, Graham Colditz, in a statement. "It's time we made an investment in implementing what we know." For example, more exercise and less alcohol can lower the risk of breast cancer, quitting smoking reduces the risk for lung cancer, and vaccines for HPV and hepatitis lower the risk for cervical and liver cancer.

"Getting these interventions to the right people, however, is easier said than done," Harmon says. Habits like smoking are difficult to break, but another problem is that funding for research is disproportionately allocated to the search for new treatments, instead of prevention. "Colditz and his colleagues suggested that professional prestige be bestowed not just on basic biological discoveries, but also on applied medicine and those who discover how to make the best use of what we already know," Harmon adds.

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