Realizing Opportunities in Cancer Prevention


In the U.S., it is estimated that 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will develop cancer in their lifetime even though 50% of cancer deaths are preventable. The Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network hosted a panel on Friday, September 30 in Washington, D.C. on the future of cancer prevention with top public health experts.

“We cannot achieve the full potential in our cancer fight unless we embrace and implement everything we have learned about prevention,” said Dr. Richard Wender, the American Cancer Society’s Chief Cancer Control Officer, and keynote speaker. Of the 26% decline in cancer death rates among women in the United States from 1930-2012, he said, 85% is attributable to preventative measures. Dr. Wender warned that it is difficult to fully implement proven public health strategies to achieve their full efficacy, but that implementation is even more difficult in low income areas than others. This challenge demands engagement in both the public and private sector, he explained.

The panel, moderated by Dan Glickman, BPC senior fellow and co-chair of BPC’s Commission on Political Reform, Democracy Project, and Prevention Initiative, focused on current prevention efforts. Dr. Joxel Garcia, executive director of the Cancer Prevention and Control Platform at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, emphasized the importance of increasing HPV vaccination rates, decreasing use of tanning beds, and being wary about “vaping,” an alternative to smoking that is rising in popularity but of which there is little research about regarding long-term health consequences. Dr. Karen DeSalvo, Acting Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, added that preventative technological advances have made great strides, but these services need to be expanded to become accessible to more people, like those with Medicaid. Citing the Precision Medicine Initiative, Dr. DeSalvo talked about “precision public health,” and targeting public health strategies to those most in need..

Dr. Howard Koh, Professor of the Practice of Public Health Leadership at the Harvard School of Public Health and the Harvard Kennedy School, noted the decline in smoking rates, but also pressed that “we should not rest until lung cancer is an uncommon cause of cancer death.” Lung cancer is thoroughly preventable, he explained, and yet it remains one of the most common cancers in both men and women. Vice President Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot Initiative, which includes prevention and early detection methods, will have a positive effect on reducing lung cancer rates, he added.

Dr. Garcia urged that it is critical to “democratize” data by breaking down data silos and encouraging collaboration, which the Cancer Moonshot aims to do. Dr. DeSalvo added that more patients are willing to donate their data to research centers, which could help further the Precision Medicine and the Cancer Moonshot initiatives. Dr. Koh also emphasized the importance of health care that is “person-centered” and not just “patient-centered,” which takes into account prevention, diversity of populations, and general health and well-being. 

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We have health challenges in this country that science will provide answers for if given the chance and we haven't given science that opportunity
Mary Woolley, President and CEO, Research!America