It confirms what medicine already knew. Nearly half of cancers in the world are attributable to a given risk factor, including tobacco in the first place, then alcohol, concludes a gigantic study published in the medical journal The LancetFriday, August 19. “According to our analysis, 44.4% of cancer deaths worldwide (…) are attributable to a risk factor that has been measured”advances the survey conducted as part of the Global Burden of Disease (which assesses mortality and disability due to the main diseases), emphasizing the importance of prevention without however making it a panacea.
This vast research program, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is of an unparalleled scale, involving several thousand researchers in most countries. Its primary objective is to “understand the magnitude of cancer burden attributable to potentially modifiable risk factors”, which is “crucial for the development of effective prevention and mitigation strategies (…), to inform cancer control planning efforts globally,” says The Lancet. Cancer is the second leading cause of death worldwide, the study adds.
Prevention is not enough
This research therefore makes it possible to better understand the risk factors according to the regions of the world even if, on the whole, its conclusions confirm what was already known. Tobacco is by far the main cause of cancer (33.9%), followed by alcohol (7.4%). Above all, these conclusions argue for placing a great deal of emphasis on prevention in public health, since many of these risk factors relate to behaviors that can be changed or avoided.
“The main risk factors contributing to the global cancer burden in 2019 were behavioral, while metabolic risk factors saw the largest increases between 2010 and 2019.” (The Lancet).
NEW—Almost half of global #cancer deaths are due to risk factors, with smoking, alcohol use, and high BMI the great… https://t.co/rIQ6hhjyld
However, a good half of cancers are not attributable to a given risk factor, which also shows that prevention is not enough. This, according to the authors, must therefore be accompanied by two other pillars, namely a sufficiently early diagnosis and effective treatments.
In an independent commentary, published in the same edition of Lancet, two epidemiologists supported these conclusions, also believing that the study underlines the importance of prevention. These two commentators, Diana Sarfati and Jason Gurney, however, called for not necessarily taking the accuracy of the estimates given at face value, noting that the collection of data is by nature subject to many shortcomings in several countries.