WASHINGTONIf Katie Couric’s on-air exam made colonoscopy a
household word, the time may have come for a nationwide campaign to prevent
cancer. Any national program for preventing cancer must be relevant,
collaborative, and communicated as strongly as possible to the public and to
the primary care physicians who serve them, said members of the Cancer
Prevention Working Group at its recent meeting.
Such a plan, said panel members, would rest on knowledge shared across
disciplines, promote broad participation with appropriate funding, and
demonstrate the perceived medical benefits.
"We must get ivory tower information to the public," said Elmer E.
Huerta, MD, MPH, director of the Washington Hospital Center’s Cancer
Dr. Huerta has his own model of preventive medicine. His clinic in
Washington sees 10,000 patients a yearnone of whom are sick. He spends half
an hour with each patient, takes a history, performs a physical examination,
teaches women breast self-examination, hands out educational materials, and, in
general, "does a lot of talking."
Frequently, the public clings to ideas that get in the way of good
prevention practices, added David S. Alberts, MD: "Other people get
cancer," or "You are healthy until you get sick."
Too few people understand that cancer is a carcinogenic process rather than
an event. "Why not identify the start of that process 30 years before it
is diagnosed?" asked Dr. Alberts, associate dean for research, Arizona
Cancer Center, Tucson. A lag in developing biomarkers has made this approach
less feasible for the moment.
Other participants cautioned that the traditional medical model"Make
an appointment and come to the clinic"needs to be supplemented with
community- or school-based approaches to accommodate different perspectives and
priorities. Even kindergarten children can start learning about the dangers of
sun exposurealthough participants cautioned about directly addressing cancer
with children so young.