Avoided and avoidable risks of cancer

Lorenzo Tomatis, James Huffi, Irva Hertz-Picciotto, Dale P. Sandler, John Bucheri, Paolo Boffetta, Olav Axelson, Aaron Blair, Jack Taylor, Leslie Stayner, J. Carl Barret

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

100 Scopus citations


Despite the considerable efforts and funds devoted to cancer research over several decades, cancer still remains a mainly lethal disease. Cancer incidence and mortality have not declined at the same rate as other major causes of death, indicating that primary prevention remains a most valuable approach to decrease mortality. There is general agreement that environmental exposures are variously involved in the causation of the majority of cancer cases and that at least half of all cancers could be avoided by applying existing etiologic knowledge. There is disagreement, however, regarding the proportion of cancer risks attributable to specific etiological factors, including diet, occupation and pollution. Estimates of attributable risks are largely based today on unverified assumptions and the calculation of attributable risks involves taking very unequal evidence of various types of factors and treating them equally. Effective primary prevention resulting in a reduction of cancer risk can be obtained by: (i) a reduction in the number of carcinogens to which humans are exposed; or (ii) a reduction of the exposure levels to carcinogens. Exposure levels that could be seen as sufficiently low when based on single agents, may actually not be safe in the context of the many other concomitant carcinogenic and mutagenic exposures. The list of human carcinogens and of their target organs might be quite different if: (i) epidemiological data were available for a larger proportion of human exposures for which there is experimental evidence of carcinogenicity; (ii) more attention was paid to epidemiological evidence that is suggestive of an exposure-cancer association, but is less than sufficient, particularly in identifying target organs; and (iii) experimental evidence of carcinogenicity, supported by mechanistic considerations, were more fully accepted as predictions of human risk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)97-105
Number of pages9
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research


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