- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 31, 2000

My 75-year-old father's successful fight against lung cancer this summer reminded me how prevalent this disease has become. With 1.2 million Americans being diagnosed with cancer each year, I feel very fortunate that even though my dad smoked for more than 30 years, he has not paid the ultimate price for his former addiction. A well-trained doctor quickly detected a slow-growing mass in his left lung and was able to remove it.
Early detection certainly can help stamp out cancer's threat, but prevention also is key. A respected organization has developed a Web site to give concerned individuals a way to determine quickly their risk of contracting this insidious disease while also gathering concrete ideas for its deterrence.

YOUR CANCER RISK

Site address: www.yourcancerrisk.harvard.edu

Creator:

Established in 1994, the Harvard Center for Cancer Prevention promotes prevention as the primary approach to cancer control. Based at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, the center conducts and coordinates research to identify modifiable causes of cancer and translates its findings into effective prevention strategies for individuals and communities.

Creator quotable:

"We created this site to engage users in learning about risk factors for cancer and thinking about ways to lower their risk," says Dr. Graham Colditz, director of education at the Harvard Center for Cancer Prevention and professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health.
"People clearly want this kind of personalized, interactive health information. By developing this site, we believe we're responding to an important and largely unmet need."

Word from the Webwise:

According to the Harvard Center, 50 percent of all cancers in the United States can be prevented when people take basic steps to reduce their risk.
Your Cancer Risk offers each visitor a personalized method for estimating and lowering the potential for contracting the 12 most common cancers breast, prostate, lung, colon, bladder, melanoma, uterine, kidney, pancreatic, ovarian, cervical and stomach.
The site accomplishes this individual risk-reduction strategy assessment by asking visitors concerned with a particular type of cancer a series of questions related to diet, smoking, physical activity, environment and family history.
Each questionnaire, which takes about three minutes to complete, concludes with visitors viewing descriptions of their risk in the form of colored bar graphs. This seven-level scale compares results to those for an average man or woman of the same age.
An individual then can click on "more" icons located next to problem areas to learn where to focus preventive efforts and how to make lifestyle changes. With each click, the bar graph shrinks, and the threat drops.
For example, I chose to find out how likely I am to develop lung cancer. Questions ranged from, "Have you lived with a smoker most of your life?" to, "Do you eat three or more servings of a fruit a day?" I also was asked whether I ever had worked with chemicals such as chromium, aluminum or mustard gas.
After answering a dozen questions, I learned I am at a "much below average" risk for lung cancer. After a deep sigh of relief, I clicked on the few items that raised my chances, which included living in a large city for more than 10 years and growing up with a parent who smoked. Each tip presented statistics, additional Web sites and helpful methods for achieving goals.
To estimate a person's risk, the site uses a set of calculations developed by a team of experts from the Harvard center. This group spent two years reviewing scientific evidence before determining which factors have the strongest proven association with cancer.

Ease of use:

Being 37 years old definitely was a detriment to working with this site. The information used to estimate risk is based on studies of people age 40 and older. The forms still can be filled out, but visitors must type in the minimum age of 40 to get started.
Certain lifestyle choices, however, such as smoking two packs of cigarettes a day or working with asbestos or not eating three servings of vegetables a day no matter the age still will reveal potential problems.
Overall, the combination of forms that keep track of which questionnaires already have been completed and questionnaire results, combined with the ease with which more information can be found, make Your Cancer Risk an important component in a cancer-prevention strategy.

Don't miss:

This may sound a bit simple, but the site nicely defines "What is cancer?" with a link of the same name at the top of every page. This knowledge, combined with simply written fact sheets about each form of cancer which include symptoms and diagrams really sheds light on the complexity of this disease.

Overall grade: A

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it's accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician. Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (joseph@twtmail.com).

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