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Prevention - our most powerful weapon against cancer

Picture: Uwe Anspach

Michael Baumann, Director of the German Cancer Research Center, explains why we are lagging so far behind in terms of prevention and what we need to do to drive research and application forward.

In the next twenty years, the number of cancer cases worldwide will increase significantly. In Germany, we currently have around 510,000 new cases of cancer every year, and more than 200,000 people die from cancer. By 2030, we expect to see around 600,000 new cases of cancer every year.

Around 40 percent of all new cases of cancer in Germany are attributable to a few preventable cancer risk factors: Tobacco consumption, an unhealthy diet, obesity, lack of exercise, high alcohol consumption and certain infections. Consistent primary prevention can prevent a large proportion of these cases, while the causes of the remaining 60 percent of cancer cases are not yet fully understood.

The healthcare system in Germany, as in most industrialized countries, is primarily geared towards the treatment of diseases, as expressed by the term “reparative medicine”, yet our most powerful weapons against cancer are prevention and early detection. Unfortunately, however, there is a glaring lack of long-term and targeted prevention research in Germany, and the implementation of our knowledge is also inadequate.

There is a lack of coordinated, long-term information campaigns and accompanying evaluation research. There is a lack of programs that are targeted at different population groups and that reach people with a particularly high risk of cancer. We need suitable structures and the political will to make it easier for people to lead a healthy lifestyle and to motivate them to take advantage of early cancer detection.

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