August 7, 2007 / 6:06 PM / 12 years ago

Preventive steps could save 100,000 U.S. lives: study

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Increased use of just five preventive services would save more than 100,000 lives every year in the United States, health experts said in a report released on Tuesday.

An office worker enjoys a cigarette in downtown Toronto February 19, 2007. Increased use of just five preventive services -- taking one low-dose aspirin a day, helping more smokers quit, increasing colorectal and breast cancer screening and providing annual flu shots to those over 50 -- would save more than 100,000 lives every year in the United States, health experts said in a report released on Tuesday. REUTERS/J.P. Moczulski

Of the five prevention tips, the biggest impact would come if adults took a low dose of aspirin every day to prevent heart disease, a step that could save 45,000 lives a year.

The report by the Partnership for Prevention, a nonprofit health policy group, also calls for renewed efforts to help smokers quit, more colorectal cancer and breast cancer screening and annual flu shots for people over 50.

“This shows so dramatically the potential impact of prevention,” said Dr. Kathleen Toomey of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which helped fund the study along with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the WellPoint Foundation.

“These are really very modest, low-cost interventions that have such potentially dramatic impact on improving the health of the public,” Toomey said in a telephone interview.

The study underscores the tendency in the United States to treat disease, rather than prevent it.

“Our nation has never truly invested in prevention,” Toomey said.

The report uncovered racial disparities in use of preventive care. For example, Hispanic smokers are 55 percent less likely than whites to get help to quit smoking and Asian-Americans are the racial group least likely to take aspirin and get screened for breast and colorectal cancer.

ASPIRIN A DAY

Currently fewer than half of Americans take a low, daily dose of aspirin to prevent heart disease. Boosting aspirin use to 90 percent of adults would save 45,000 lives, the study found.

Bolstering efforts to get smokers to quit would have a similar impact. The study found 42,000 lives could be spared if 90 percent of smokers were advised by doctors to quit and were offered drugs and other services to help. Only 28 percent of smokers get such services now.

Another 14,000 lives would be saved if 90 percent of adults over 50 were screened regularly for colorectal cancer, and some 12,000 lives would be saved if 90 percent of people over 50 got flu shots every year. Only 37 percent of U.S. adults get an annual flu shot.

Regular breast cancer screening for all women over 40 could save another 4,000 lives. Only 67 percent of women have been screened in the past two years, the report found.

“To actually implement this and have the impact of saving 100,000 lives will really require a multi-pronged approach with public health taking the lead,” Toomey said.

She said it will be important to educate individuals to take better care of themselves and of loved ones and make sure insurers and employers cover these preventive services.

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