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Cancer mortality rates continue to decrease in the United States; part of this decrease results from reductions in tobacco use, since cigarette smoking is the most important preventable cause of cancer. Primary prevention of skin cancer consists of restricting exposure to ultraviolet light by wearing appropriate clothing, and use of sunscreens. Persons who engage in regular physical exercise and avoid obesity have lower rates of breast and colon cancer. Prevention of occupationally induced cancers involves minimizing exposure to carcinogenic substances, such as asbestos, ionizing radiation, and benzene compounds. Chemoprevention has been widely studied for primary cancer prevention (see earlier Chemoprevention section and Chapter 39-15). Use of tamoxifen, raloxifene, and aromatase inhibitors for breast cancer prevention is discussed in Chapters 17-07 and 39-04. Hepatitis B vaccination can prevent hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), and screening and vaccination programs may be cost effective and useful in preventing HCC in high-risk groups, such as Asians and Pacific Islanders. Screening and treatment of hepatitis C is another strategy to prevent HCC (see Chapter 16-03). The use of HPV vaccine to prevent cervical and possibly anal cancer is discussed earlier in this chapter. HPV vaccines may also have a role in the prevention of HPV-related head and neck cancers. Studies evaluating the long-term efficacy of the vaccine against non-anogenital cancers are ongoing. Guidelines for optimal cancer screening in adults over the age of 75 are unsettled; thus, an individualized approach that considers differences in disease risk rather than chronological age alone is recommended.

Breslau  ES  et al. An individualized approach to cancer screening decisions in older adults: a multilevel framework. J Gen Intern Med. 2016 May;31(5):539–47.
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Salzman  B  et al. Cancer screening in older patients. Am Fam Physician. 2016 Apr 15;93(8):659–67.
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Smith  RA  et al. Cancer screening in the United States, 2016: a review of current American Cancer Society guidelines and current issues in cancer screening. CA Cancer J Clin. 2016 Mar–Apr;66(2):96–114.
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Wernli  KJ  et al. Screening for skin cancer in adults: updated evidence report and systematic review for the US Preventive Services Task Force. JAMA. 2016 Jul 26;316(4):436–47.
[PubMed: 27458949]


Screening prevents death from cancers of the breast, colon, and cervix. Current cancer screening recommendations from the USPSTF are shown in Table 1–6. Despite an increase in rates of screening for breast, cervical, and colon cancer over the last decade, overall screening for these cancers is suboptimal. Interventions effective in promoting recommended cancer screening include group education, one-on-one education, patient reminders, reduction of structural barriers, reduction of out-of-pocket costs, and provider assessment and feedback.

Table 1–6.Cancer screening recommendations for average-risk adults: US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF).1

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