Some members of Congress are urging that the fight against cancer be shifted from treatment to prevention. This is an appealing concept, especially when coupled with the widely held notion that virtually all cancers are caused by environmental factors and that lends credence to the conclusion that we should abandon treatment as the major approach to solving the cancer problem and invest all of our financial and intellectual resources in a cancer prevention campaign.
While attractive on the surface, the prevention strategy has serious limitations. We know that the process of developing a cancer generally requires long periods of exposure to causative agents, and, therefore, prevention will have to be consistently applied for long periods, perhaps decades, to be effective. Moreover, even among those persons most heavily exposed to cancer-causing agents, such as cigarette smokers, the risk of the development of cancer is still fairly low.
These limitations have important