Behavioral Research in Cancer Prevention and Control: Emerging Challenges and Opportunities

J Natl Cancer Inst. 2022 Feb 7;114(2):179-186. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djab139.


It is estimated that behaviors such as poor diet, alcohol consumption, tobacco use, sedentary behavior, and excessive ultraviolet exposure account for nearly one-half of all cancer morbidity and mortality. Accordingly, the behavioral, social, and communication sciences have been important contributors to cancer prevention and control research, with methodological advances and implementation science helping to produce optimally effective interventions. To sustain these contributions, it is vital to adapt to the contemporary context. Efforts must consider ancillary effects of the 2019 coronavirus disease pandemic, profound changes in the information environment and public understanding of and trust in science, renewed attention to structural racism and social determinants of health, and the rapidly increasing population of cancer survivors. Within this context, it is essential to accelerate reductions in tobacco use across all population subgroups; consider new models of energy balance (diet, physical activity, sedentary behavior); increase awareness of alcohol as a risk factor for cancer; and identify better communication practices in the context of cancer-related decisions such as screening and genetic testing. Successful integration of behavioral research and cancer prevention depends on working globally and seamlessly across disciplines, taking a multilevel approach where possible. Methodological and analytic approaches should be emphasized in research training programs and should use new and underused data sources and technologies. As the leadership core of the National Cancer Institute's Behavioral Research Program, we reflect on these challenges and opportunities and consider implications for the next phase of behavioral research in cancer prevention and control.

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology
  • Behavioral Research*
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Diet
  • Exercise
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms* / prevention & control