Beating cancer with prevention

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Cervical cancer cells. Image: Spike Walker/Getty

Some 40% of cancers could be prevented with simple lifestyle changes and higher levels of protection from cancer-causing infections, according to experts at the International Union Against Cancer (UICC). Cancer-causing infections are responsible for 22% of deaths in the developing world, and 6% of deaths in the developed world, according to estimates from the World Health Organization. Yet, in many cases these infections—with the human papillomavirus, which causes cervical cancer, or viral hepatitis, which can lead to stomach and liver cancer—can be prevented.In 2007, 7.9 million people worldwide died of cancer; by 2030, that figure is expected to increase by 45%, to 11.5 million deaths.

A report (PDF) released this week by UICC, in honor of World Cancer Day, highlights how increasing vaccination efforts to prevent the spread of hepatitis B and C, as well as the human papillomavirus (HPV), can dramatically reduce cancer deaths around the globe. Public health initiatives—primarily raising vaccination levels for HPV and hepatitis and deploying greater prevention strategies for preventing the spread of diseases such as HIV and Epstein Barr—have a central role to play in achieving the potential 40% reduction in cancers. Yet experts say that lifestyle changes, including reducing sun exposure, drinking less, quitting smoking and combating obesity, are also critical to keeping cancer in check.