Cancer prevention: state of the art and future prospects


Cancer prevention
Organized screening program


Cancer imposes a heavy societal burden worldwide, in terms of both epidemiology and costs. The introduction of more sophisti- cated imaging and diagnostic techniques and advanced drugs that specifically target tumor cells is leading to increasingly expensive treatments, which may be affordable only for few patients. Pre- vention, and particularly primary prevention, is an effective way of addressing the challenging issue of cancer, since between a third and a half of cancers could be prevented on the basis of our current knowledge of risk factors. Moreover, prevention is cost-effective, its effects are not limited to high-risk subjects but extend to the entire population, and it is not dependent on socio- economic status. Regulatory measures can have a broad impact, even on future generations; by empowering and educating sub- jects, promoting healthy behaviours and teaching self-care, they can trigger a virtuous cycle. In recent decades, oncology has shifted from being merely reactive to being proactive; this shift has led to the development of so-called P4 medicine, where the 4 Ps stand for preventive, predictive, personalized and participatory. Prevention programs are an important part of the effort to control cancer, as they are able to reduce both the incidence of cancer and mortality. For instance, screening for colorectal, breast and cervical cancer is reducing the burden of these common tumors. Anti-cancer vaccines, both prophylactic and therapeutic, constitute another important preventive tool. Although progress has been made in these areas, much remains to be done. With regard to screening programs, coverage could be increased by introducing new, more acceptable, less invasive tests, stratifying screening through correlation with anamnestic, clinical, radiological and genomic data (so-called population- based personalized cancer screening), and exploiting new infor- mation and communication technologies, such as smartphone applications or personalized text messages (so-called screening 2.0). Advocacy and recommendations by physicians can also play a role, in that eligible subjects need to be able to discuss their doubts and their perceived psycho-social barriers. How- ever, new screening initiatives should be implemented only after a careful health technology assessment has been performed within the framework of evidence-based medicine, organized screening programs have been strengthened and opportunistic or spontane-ous programs have been limited.


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