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Annually, there are 1.6 million new cases of cancer and nearly 600,000 cancer deaths in the United States alone. The public health burden associated with these numbers has motivated enormous research efforts into understanding the root causes of cancer. These efforts have led to the recognition that between 40% and 45% of cancers are associated with preventable risk factors and, importantly, have identified specific molecular mechanisms by which these exposures modify human physiology to induce or promote cancer. The increasingly refined knowledge of these mechanisms, which we summarize here, emphasizes the need for greater efforts toward primary cancer prevention through mitigation of modifiable risk factors. It also suggests exploitable avenues for improved secondary prevention (which includes the development of therapeutics designed for cancer interception and enhanced techniques for noninvasive screening and early detection) based on detailed knowledge of early neoplastic pathobiology. Such efforts would complement the current emphasis on the development of therapeutic approaches to treat established cancers and are likely to result in far greater gains in reducing morbidity and mortality.

Original publication




Journal article


Genes & development

Publication Date





868 - 902


Program in Molecular Therapeutics, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19111, USA.


Humans, Neoplasms, Risk Factors, Primary Prevention, United States, Early Detection of Cancer