Press Releases

2000 Releases


For immediate release: January 19, 2000

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

Boston, MA--The Harvard Center for Cancer Prevention announced the availability of a new, personalized method for estimating and lowering an individual's cancer risk. Center scientists gathered at a press conference at the Harvard School of Public Health to launch the risk assessment tool, Your Cancer Risk (available to the public for free at

Unlike the vast majority of health information currently available, Your Cancer Risk provides individuals with personalized assessments of their risk as well as prevention strategies tailored to meet their needs. The web site currently assesses an individual's risk of breast, prostate, colon, or lung cancer. "We estimate that 50% of all cancer can be prevented when people take basic steps to reduce their risk," said Graham Colditz, Director of Education at the Harvard Center for Cancer Prevention. "Your Cancer Risk is unique because it offers people a road map, showing them which steps have the biggest impact on them."

But motivation, as well as knowledge, is an essential ingredient in preventing cancer, added Colditz. Your Cancer Risk was designed to help people make lifestyle changes by explaining how and why their habits affect their risk. "Studies show that people are more likely to make a healthy change if they believe it's relevant to their own situation," he said. "With so much health information online, Your Cancer Risk breaks through the overload and reaches individuals with the messages they need to hear."

To estimate a person's risk, the web site uses a set of calculations developed by a team of experts from the Harvard School of Public Health. The team reviewed the scientific evidence to determine which factors have the strongest link with cancer risk and which prevention steps are most effective. "The review process was critical, helping us separate fact from fiction when it comes to the major causes of cancer," said David Hunter, Director of the Center and member of the team.

After filling out brief questionnaires, users receive a personalized description of their risk in the form of a colored bar graph, which they can 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 change their lifestyles by "clicking on" personalized strategies. With each click, the bar graph shrinks, and they watch their predicted risk drop.

In addition to its personalized cancer prevention messages, Your Cancer Risk provides users with cancer-specific fact sheets, "risk lists" that explain the link between exposure and disease and resources for more information. Updated versions of Your Cancer Risk will include risk assessments for 8 additional cancers: ovarian, cervical, uterine, bladder, kidney, stomach, pancreatic and melanoma. The team will monitor research findings and update the web site to bring users the latest advancements in cancer risk reduction.

"Your Cancer Risk empowers individuals to make risk-lowering changes outside of a clinical setting, but we hope that health care professionals will be active partners in prevention," said Hunter. "We'd like to see the web site assist in medical decision making and encourage health care professionals to counsel patients on modifiable factors."

About 1.2 million Americans are diagnosed with cancer each year. The 4 cancers currently included in Your Cancer Risk represent about 50% of the US cancer burden. Breast cancer and prostate cancer are the most common in the US, followed by lung cancer and colon cancer. After heart disease, cancer is the leading cause of death in US adults.

Established in 1994, the Harvard Center for Cancer Prevention ( is a research and education organization that promotes prevention as the primary approach to cancer control. The Center conducts and coordinates research to identify modifiable causes of cancer and translates the findings into effective prevention strategies at the individual and community levels. Major funding for the development of Your Cancer Risk was provided by Canyon Ranch Health Resorts.

For further information, please contact:

Communications Coordinator
Harvard Center for Cancer Prevention
677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts 02115
Phone: (617) 432-4608

Robin Herman
Director of Communications
677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts 02115
Phone: 617-432-4752