“This study will use data from over 2.3 million people to provide up-to-date estimates of the proportions of cancers that could be avoided in the future if people changed their behaviours.” – Dr Robert MacInnis
Population-level relevance of preventable risk factors on the burden of cancer
Certain behaviours, or risk factors, are known to increase the chance of someone developing cancer. These risk factors include smoking, drinking alcohol, poor diet and not being physically active. Policies and campaigns aimed at reducing the number of people who will develop cancer use a range of scientific data including estimates of the proportion of cancers that could be prevented if exposure to risk factors was removed or reduced.
Most previous studies that have estimated these proportions have not used the most recent data on how common these behaviours are, and they have not estimated the future impact on the numbers of new cancers. Also, these studies have not used the best available scientific methods, nor have they compared different groups within our communities, including men and women, young and old, and different races.
Recently, our research team developed new methods that overcome these problems and applied them successfully to Australian datasets. Applying these methods to large international datasets will increase the relevance of the findings to worldwide cancer prevention activities, and make them more accurate, particularly for less common cancers and population subgroups.
Aims and objectives
We will provide up-to-date estimates of the proportions of cancers that could be avoided in the future if people changed their behaviours and completely removed or reduced cancer risk factors. We will account for the fact that some people have more than one risk factor and that the risk factors also increase the risk of death.
We will calculate the proportions of cancers related to smoking, drinking alcohol, body fatness, physical activity, dietary consumption (fruits, vegetables, dairy, and red and processed meat), multivitamin use, oral contraceptive use, menopausal hormone therapy use, and breastfeeding.
The cancers we will study include prostate (lethal), breast, bowel, upper aerodigestive tract, kidney and pancreas. We will also estimate these proportions for community groups, such as by sex, age, race, family history of cancer, education, and by country.
How it will be done
The National Cancer Institute Cohort Consortium offers a unique opportunity to reliably study these issues using by far the largest dataset available anywhere, called The Pooling Project of Prospective Studies of Diet and Cancer (DCPP). The DCPP has already collected most of the data we need, and it is high quality.
We will also use the most recent already-collected national survey data on health behaviours to identify how common the risk factors are in each country. We will use our advanced research methods to estimate the preventable proportions of cancer.
Reliable estimates of the preventable proportions of cancer for different groups in our community are essential for getting community support to where it is most needed. By working in close partnership with a broad range of experts, including those responsible for health promotion policies and campaigns, we will maximise the ability of our findings to improve global cancer control.