Cancer prevention: what the physician can do

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Our ability to improve the control of cancer today depends more on effective screening and prevention efforts by primary care physicians than on curative interventions at secondary and tertiary levels.


Although the average family physician sees only one or two new cases of even common types of cancer per year, one in every three Americans eventually will contract cancer.

Smoking and diet contribute to perhaps two of every three cases of cancer. Preventive measures can reduce the risk of cancer of the lung, head and neck, skin, and, perhaps, breast, colon, and uterine cervix.

The National Cancer Institute estimates that early detection practices could, by themselves, reduce US cancer mortality rates by 25%. Early detection is an accepted approach for cancer of the breast, uterine cervix, skin, mouth, and thyroid gland. Research is underway to establish the role of screening for cancer of the colon, prostate, endometrium, testicles, and urinary bladder.

Patients need to take action at the first sign of symptoms, and primary-care physicians should teach patients the early signs of cancer.

Simple reminder systems can help patients and doctors comply with prevention and screening recommendations.



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