Priorities for cancer prevention: lifestyle choices versus unavoidable exposures

Lancet Oncol. 2012 Mar;13(3):e126-33. doi: 10.1016/S1470-2045(11)70221-2.


Although cancer prevention in the USA and other developed countries focuses on disease attributable to lifestyle factors such as smoking, alcohol intake, sun exposure, and obesity, cancer caused by involuntary exposures is a concern. The term environmental is ambiguously used to distinguish between lifestyle and unavoidable exposures. The general community is said to be vulnerable to carcinogens encountered in pollution, contaminated food, and consumer products. In view of these concerns, assessments of the carcinogenicity of particular chemicals are of little assistance in prevention of cancer. Appraisal of cancer attributable to widespread and localised pollution, pesticides, endocrine disrupting chemicals, and consumer products yields diverse outcomes, from established causation to absence of harm. The precautionary principle is not a practicable approach for unknown carcinogenic risks. Procedures for individuals to reduce exposure to recognised or suspect carcinogens in consumer products are not effective measures for cancer prevention. Anxiety concerning insidious cancer causation could divert attention from proven means of cancer prevention.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / adverse effects
  • Carcinogens, Environmental / adverse effects*
  • Endocrine Disruptors / adverse effects
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Life Style*
  • Neoplasms / etiology
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Pesticides / adverse effects
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Risk Reduction Behavior*


  • Air Pollutants
  • Carcinogens, Environmental
  • Endocrine Disruptors
  • Pesticides