Press Releases

2000 Releases

WHAT IS YOUR RISK?

For immediate release: June 21, 2000

Recommendations Could Help Prevent 50% of All Cancers in the US

BOSTON, MA--The Harvard Center for Cancer Prevention announced the expansion of the popular risk assessment tool, Your Cancer Risk (available to the public for free at www.yourcancerrisk.harvard.edu). The site now offers a personalized method for estimating and lowering an individual's risk of the 12 most common cancers in the US: breast, prostate, lung, colon, bladder, melanoma, uterine, kidney, pancreatic, ovarian, cervical and stomach.

In January, the Center launched Your Cancer Risk with risk assessments for the four most common cancers: breast, prostate, lung and colon. On the first day alone, the site received over one million hits. "People clearly want this kind of personalized, interactive health information," said Graham Colditz, M.D., Dr.P.H., director of education at the Harvard Center for Cancer Prevention and professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. "By adding new risk assessments, we believe we’re responding to a need."

According to the Center, 50% of all cancers in the US can be prevented when people take basic steps to reduce their risk. Unlike most online health information, Your Cancer Risk personalizes risk-reduction strategies for each visitor to the site. "Your Cancer Risk is unique because it offers people a road map, showing them which steps have the biggest impact, given their lifestyle and background. And the feedback is immediate," said Dr. Colditz.

After filling out brief questionnaires, users receive personalized descriptions of their risk in the form of colored bar graphs, which they electronically manipulate to experience "virtual" risk reduction. The bar graph is a 7-level scale that compares users to a typical man or woman their age. Users learn where to focus their prevention efforts and how to make lifestyle changes by "clicking on" personalized strategies. With each click, the bar graph shrinks and they watch their risk drop.

To estimate a person's risk, the site uses a set of calculations developed by a team of experts from the Harvard Center for Cancer Prevention. The team spent two years reviewing the scientific evidence before determining which factors have the strongest proven association with cancer risk. "People get conflicting health advice all the time," said David Hunter, M.D., Sc.D., director of the Center and member of the team. "Your Cancer Risk offers reliable, consistent information that we all agree can help lower an individual's risk of cancer."

Dr. Hunter stressed that physicians also play an important role in helping people understand information about their health. "They can reinforce the site's messages by counseling patients on modifiable factors," he said. "Even though the site empowers people to make risk-lowering changes outside of a clinical setting, we hope that physicians will be active partners in prevention."

About 1.2 million Americans are diagnosed with cancer each year. Excluding non-melanoma skin cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer are the most common in the US, followed by lung, colon and bladder cancer. After heart disease, cancer is the leading cause of death among US adults.

For further information, please contact:

Michelle Samplin-Salgado, MPH
Harvard Center for Cancer Prevention Research
Harvard School of Public Health
677 Huntington Avenue
Building 3, Room 815
Boston, Massachusetts 02115
Center Phone: (617) 432-0038
Direct Line: (617) 432-4303
Fax: (617) 432-4666

Robin Herman
Office of Communications
Harvard School of Public Health
677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Phone: 617-432-4752
Email: rherman@hsph.harvard.edu