Cancer incidence has increased despite a decrease in overall mortality, according to a paper published in the European Journal of Cancer (2010 Sep;46(14):2523-4).

The paper, authored by José Martin-Moreno, MD, from the University of Valencia, Spain, and colleagues, pointed out that the current economic crisis threatens to affect cancer incidence in a number of areas, including lifestyle choices, genetics, environment, occupation, infections, and access to preventive health care.

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Dr. Martin-Moreno and his team expressed that unless forceful action is undertaken now, the problem will only continue to worsen, leading to enormous human cost as well as placing a burden on the health systems. However, the researchers explained that as people give up or reduce unhealthy lifestyle habits in order to reduce costs, they may be particularly receptive to new and healthier choices. “Governments could also play their part by taking the opportunity to levy higher taxes on tobacco, alcohol, and other unhealthy goods like trans fat or processed sugar and channeling the revenue thus derived towards job-creating disease prevention and social welfare programs,” said Dr. Martin-Moreno.

Dr. Martin-Moreno’s paper and other papers in the issue focused on the need to address cancer prevention using a holistic and global approach, focusing on the risk factors of smoking, obesity, alcohol, and physical inactivity.

In another paper in the issue, Esther de Vries, MD, from the Department of Public Health, Erasmus Medical Centre, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, and colleagues, used the PREVENT statistical modeling method to study the impact of preventing weight gain and increasing physical activity on colon cancer incidence in seven European countries.

They found that the incidence of colon cancer in Europe has increased since 1975 and comprised 13.6% of the estimated European cancer burden by 2008. “Yet we know that large numbers of colon cancer cases could be avoided by reducing exposure to risk factors, two of the most easily controllable of which are related to physical inactivity and excess weight,” said Andrew Renehan, MD, from the University of Manchester, United Kingdom, one of the co-authors of the paper.

In the hypothetical scenario where overweight and obesity levels in European countries increased during 2009 at the same rate as has been observed in the US, the projected increase in rates of colon cancer ranged between 1.7 and 2.8 more cases for 100,000 person-years for males. Increases for females ranged from 0.1 and 0.6 more cases per 100,000 person-years. According to the researchers, these rates would translate to a 0.7% to 3.8% increase in the number of new colon cancer cases.

In a physical activity scenario, if all countries adopt the physical activity levels as observed for The Netherlands, up to 17.5% of new colon cancer cases might be prevented in 2040.

“We found interesting patterns in these models,” said Dr. Renehan. “Preventing weight gain and encouraging weight reduction would seen to be most beneficial in men, but for women a strategy with a great emphasis on increasing physical activity would be more effective.”