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 Preventorium.
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.