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Front Oncol. 2012 May 8;2:45. doi: 10.3389/fonc.2012.00045. eCollection 2012.

Population based cancer screening programmes as a teachable moment for primary prevention interventions. A review of the literature.

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Epidemiologia dei Tumori II, AOU S Giovanni Battista - CPO Piemonte Torino, Italy.



Unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, and smoking are key risk factors for the major non-communicable diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes. The screening procedure may represent an ideal setting for promoting healthy lifestyles as it represents a time when subjects are probably more inclined to consider a relationship between their own habits and their effects on health. The aim of this study is to review available evidence concerning interventions combining screening and primary prevention interventions, aimed at promoting the adoption of healthy lifestyles.


We searched the MEDLINE and Cochrane library electronic databases for intervention studies of primary prevention interventions implemented in the context of established screening programmes, or of pilot screening projects, where the study design included a comparison group.


Comprehensive interventions are acceptable for asymptomatic subjects targeted for cancer screening, can result in improvements and may be cost-effective. A positive impact of these interventions in favoring the adoption of cancer protective dietary behaviors was observed in all studies. Conflicting results were instead reported with respect to physical activity, while no impact could be observed for interventions aimed to favor smoking cessation.


The retrieved studies suggest that the screening setting may offer valuable opportunities to provide credible, potentially persuasive life style advice, reaching a wide audience. A multiple risk factor approach may maximize the benefit of behavioral change, as the same health related habits are associated not only with cancers targeted by screening interventions, but also with other cancers, coronary artery disease, and other chronic conditions, while unhealthy behaviors may be mutually reinforcing. In order to cover a maximum number of possibilities, health education programmes should include multiple strategies, integrating and combining models of individual, social, and environmental change.


breast cancer; cancer screening; cervical cancer; colorectal cancer; diet; lung cancer; physical activity; smoking cessation

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