G Colditz et al (eds)
Published by Kluwer Academic Publishers (2000)
ISBN: 0-7923-6603-4. 335 pages plus index.
This is the first volume in a series focussing on the causes of human cancer and its prevention. Produced by the Harvard Centre for Cancer Prevention, this series provides a companion to research published in the journal Cancer Causes and Control.
The book consists of 26 concise chapters, all by American authors, and is divided into two parts of equal emphasis – the first on causes of cancer and the second on cancer prevention.
The section on causes of human cancer broadly describes the contribution of various factors in cancer incidence. Chapters are devoted to smoking, dietary factors, obesity, physical activity, occupation, genetics, infectious agents, reproductive factors, socio-economic status, pollution, ultra-violet light, radiation, prescription drugs, and electro-magnetic fields. Almost all chapters have a similar structure, providing a clear, if brief, summary of the state of the evidence and including a plain English list of summary points and recommendations.
Occasionally, the American context of the book produces recommendations that differ from current Australian guidelines. For example, dietary recommendations to reduce red meat consumption to once a week or less, and advocating folic acid supplements to reduce cancer risk, which do not form part of the current NHMRC dietary guidelines for Australians. The fifteenth chapter provides a summary to the section on causes of cancer and incorporates a simple but sensible guide for cancer prevention priorities.
The second half of the book focuses on preventing cancer and proposes a social strategy to address the major risk factors of tobacco prevention and cessation, dietary change, physical activity, alcohol consumption and others. Once again, each chapter provides a useful summary of the literature and dot-point lists of summary points and recommendations.
This book might be useful for students and health professionals interested in a general overview of cancer causes and prevention. It scans the topic in one easy-to-read text, provides extensive reference lists at the end of each chapter and identifies recommended readings. However, it is written for the North American context and it may not contain the level of detail health professionals specialising in cancer may require.
At US$135 it is expensive and with evidence about the causes of cancer continually evolving, how-to manuals like this may need to be priced more realistically given their potentially short shelf life.