Cancer Prevention and Control: Exploring Progress and Looking Ahead

doctor in scrubs and white coat holding a chalkboard with the words cancer prevention written in white chalk

New Brunswick, N.J. November 30, 2021 – Controlling or reducing the risk for cancer was a principal goal of the National Cancer Act, which began in 1971. As we continue beyond 50 years since the war on cancer began, it is important to reflect on past and current cancer prevention and control research to continue identifying factors that contribute to cancer development conduct interventions to address these factors.

In a recent paper, investigators from Rutgers University including Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, Rutgers School of Public Health and Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School recently addressed the progress of behavioral and preventative medicine and the mission and vision of cancer prevention and control research in the future. Lead author Denalee O'Malley, PhD, along with senior author Shawna V. Hudson, PhD, share insight on the topic published as part of a special issue of Translational Behavioral Medicine: Practice, Policy, Research.

Why is translational research that focuses on cancer prevention important?

The implementation of evidence-based practices to prevent cancer has the potential to reduce the cancer burden by 40 to 60 percent in the United States. There is a translational lag between what we know are best practices and what is done clinically. Translational research focuses on how to best implement and accelerate the use evidence in our cancer prevention efforts.

How have cancer prevention efforts contributed to the decline in the overall rate of new cancer cases over the last decade?

Cancer prevention is central to the decline in cancer cases over the past decade, declines in smoking and increased early detection account for much of the observed progress. Due to cancer prevention efforts, the American Cancer Society estimates 3.2 million deaths have been avoided in the U.S. since the early 1990s. We have used both population-based strategies, approaches such as recommending screening and vaccinations to reduce cancer incidence. In the last decade, we have also relied on risk-based approaches, which intervenes on a subpopulation with a higher cancer risk. According to the American Cancer Society, in 2021, it was estimated that 42 percent of newly diagnosed cancers in the U.S. (797,000 cases) were avoidable. Smoking is the main driver (19 percent of new cases attributed) and a combination of obesity, alcohol consumption, poor nutrition and physical activity (18 percent of new cases attributed) of preventable cancer diagnoses. Certain cancers are causes by infections, some of these can be prevented through vaccination and other need to be managed to avoid subsequent cancers. Despite this progress, there a translational lag—it is taking too long to get what we know about how to prevent cancers put into practice for the benefits of this knowledge to be realized.

What are the key takeaway messages from this work?

The key message here is we have evidence-based strategies to prevent many different types of cancers; but, these need to be implemented and optimized in the care delivery and community settings. There are major infrastructure challenges in the care delivery setting—these systems need the tools to integrate and exchange information in real time. Evidence-based practices need to be developed and re-designed in ways that consider the real-life, real-clinic constraints that will impact their utility. Translational behavioral scientists are poised to lead the way on how to accelerate the use of scientific advancements in clinical practice and community settings in the coming decades.


About the Authors

Denalee O’Malley, PhD, is an assistant professor of Family Medicine and Community Health at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and a member of the Center Advancing Research and Evaluation for Patient-centered Care (CARE-PC). She is a member of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and a research member of the Cancer Health Equity Center of Excellence at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and Rutgers School of Public Health. Shawna V. Hudson, PhD, is chief of the Research Division and Henry Rutgers Chair of Family Medicine and Community Health at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. She directs CARE-PC and is a member of Rutgers Cancer Institute. Additionally, Anita Kinney, PhD, professor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at Rutgers School of Public Health, the director of the Cancer Health Equity Center of Excellence at Rutgers Cancer Institute and Rutgers School of Public Health, and associate director for Population Science and Community Outreach at Rutgers Cancer Institute is co-author of the work. Other authors on the work can be found here.


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