Nearly Half of Cancer Deaths are Preventable, New Study Suggests: A Miami Cancer Institute Expert Weighs In

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August 24, 2022


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Nearly half of the world’s cancer deaths could be prevented, the results of a new global study reveal. The study’s big takeaway, Baptist Health Miami Cancer Institute experts say, is that the majority of those preventable deaths are attributed to three modifiable risk factors: smoking, drinking too much alcohol and being overweight.

Manmeet Ahluwalia, M.D., deputy director, chief scientific officer, chief of solid tumor medical oncology and Fernandez Family Foundation Endowed Chair in Cancer Research at Miami Cancer Institute

“This is the most definitive study ever performed,” says Manmeet Ahluwalia, M.D., deputy director, chief scientific officer, chief of solid tumor medical oncology and Fernandez Family Foundation Endowed Chair in Cancer Research at Miami Cancer Institute. “Without a doubt, it supports changing behavior, and I would encourage everyone to work with their physician on modifying their lifestyle to address any risk factors they may have.”

Some 10 million people died of cancer worldwide in 2020, making it the second leading cause of death next to cardiovascular disease. The “Global Burden of Disease Study 2019,” published in the leading medical journal The Lancet, looked at 24 types of cancer and 34 known risk factors across 204 countries from 2010 to 2019.

While it keys in on preventable cancer risk factors, the study notes that many cancers have other causes, which highlights another important issue, Dr. Ahluwalia says. “While cancer rates are on the rise, cancer mortality has improved, thanks to novel treatments that include targeted therapy and immunotherapy, and screenings that catch cancer at early stages when it is most curable.”

HPV ― human papillomavirus ― is the cause of more than 90 percent of cervical cancers and 70 percent of head and neck cancers, according to the world’s most notable health agencies. “If everyone were vaccinated against HPV, and were aware of safe sex practices, there would be far fewer cases of these types of cancer,” Dr. Ahluwalia says.

The study also acknowledges the role poverty plays in poor health and disparities among racial and ethnic groups. Lung cancer, for example, is the number one killer of Hispanic men, and a genetic mutation linked to lung cancer is found at a higher rate in Hispanic populations. For this reason, the Institute is working with the American Lung Association to develop a program specifically targeted to South Florida’s large Hispanic community.

In 2019, the Institute became the first in the nation to partner with the American Lung Association in the “Saved by the Scan” campaign designed to increase awareness about a low-dose CT scan that can detect lung cancer before symptoms arise. In doing so, they saw a 62 percent increase in screenings year-over-year and a 29 percent increase over 2019 pre-COVID numbers.

The study publication concludes by stating: “…Countries should continue to simultaneously invest in risk reduction strategies while strengthening health systems to support early diagnosis and effective treatment of those with cancer.”

It’s a clear message, Dr. Ahluwalia says. “We are working diligently on a multi-pronged approach that will impact the health of our community. We want the best cancer care for our community and everyone globally.”

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