What Is Cancer Control?

Written By:Sandy McDowell

Cancer control is a term often used by the media, medical centers, and organizations like the American Cancer Society. But it's sometimes hard to describe what it is. That's why we're explaining what cancer control is, what its goals are, what cancer control programs do, and what the results of successful cancer control look like.

What It Is: Cancer control focuses on reducing the number of people who get cancer, have complications from it, and die from it. It uses approaches that have been tested through research to control the number of cancer cases as well as the effects of cancer. Cancer control programs work to find and use the most effective ways to:

  • Prevent cancer
  • Reduce the risk of cancer
  • Find cancer earlier
  • Improve cancer treatments
  • Help more people survive cancer
  • Improve the quality of life for people who have cancer

Its Goal: The goal of cancer control is to reduce the cancer burden. That means preventing cancer and decreasing how cancer impacts a community, family, and individual.

Understanding Cancer Burden: Cancer burden looks at the number of cancer cases and the effects of cancer in a country, community, family, or one person. Comprehensive cancer control programs look at cancer burden in a whole population or group, while also taking into account the needs of different people in the group that have certain risk factors for cancer. 

Within a population or group, the cancer burden depends on the number of people who get cancer, have complications from it, and die from it. Knowing the extent of cancer
burden also includes looking at the direct and indirect costs related to prevention, treatment, and complications.

Direct costs include the cost of preventive care and screenings, cancer medicines, and the overall care of people who have cancer. Indirect costs include the loss of resources or money in a community that can happen due to work absences, short- and long-term disability, early retirement, or early death.  

The cancer burden for a certain person depends on:

  • Their risk factors for cancer, some of which can be changed with healthy habits
  • How often they get the cancer screenings recommended for people with their risk factors
  • If they actually develop cancer
  • Their access to a high-quality cancer treatment center

How It’s Done: Cancer control programs bring together a group of people or organizations who work to put cancer research into action. This group may include cancer centers, hospitals, universities and schools, public health agencies, the government, and organizations like the American Cancer Society. They look at what methods have been shown to be most effective for cancer prevention, early detection, diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship. An increasing number of cancer control programs are also looking at approaches to palliative care. Palliative care doesn’t treat cancer but can ease the cancer burden by managing cancer symptoms and side effects of treatment to help improve a person’s quality of life.  

What Its Success Looks Like:  A cancer control program is successful when it assures that people are as healthy as possible, regardless of race, age, gender, location, social level, or economic status. This means that everyone in the cancer control program’s group or community is motivated to live healthy lifestyles, has the best possible chance to prevent cancer, and has access to high-quality care to treat cancer and manage its effects.