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The goal of cancer prevention and control is to reduce cancer risk, morbidity, and mortality through transdisciplinary collaborations across biomedical, behavioral, and social sciences. Risk reduction, early detection, and timely treatment are the rationales behind policy efforts to promote cancer prevention. Economics makes three important contributions to cancer prevention and control research. Firstly, research built upon the human capital model by Grossman and the insurance model by Ehrlich and Becker offers solid theoretical foundations to study human behaviors related to preventive care. Secondly, economic evaluation provides useful analytical tools to assess the “cancer premium” (through the stated preference research approach) and to identify the optimal screening strategy (through cost-effectiveness analysis). Lastly, the rich set of quantitative methods in applied economics contributes to the estimation of the relative contribution of prevention versus treatment in the reduction of cancer mortality and the evaluation of the impact of guidelines to regulate screening practices or policy initiatives to promote cancer screening.


Christian von Wagner, Wouter Verstraete, and Sandro Stoffel

Cancer screening aims to detect cancer before the appearance of symptoms. Applying a proactive and systematic approach, cancer screening programs invite every person in the target population automatically. Many countries have established guidelines that define criteria and principles on whether to implement screening programs for specific conditions. Despite the universal coverage of these programs, inequalities have been observed in their uptake based on various sociodemographic factors: gender, age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status (SES), educational level, and marital status. Behavioral science provides key performance indicators of these programs. Psychological factors such as perceived benefits (e.g., ability of the program to diagnose early or even prevent cancer) and barriers (e.g., opportunity costs relating to test attendance or completion), as well as people’s cancer and screening-related beliefs and perceptions of their own susceptibility to cancer, play a crucial role in cancer screening uptake. Furthermore, there is increasing awareness among professional bodies for the need to balance the public health benefits against individual costs, including financial and opportunity costs associated with participation and potential longer-term harms, such as receiving a cancer diagnosis that would never have caused any symptoms or problems). These recent developments have led to stronger emphasis on monitoring patient-reported experiences and ensuring that participation is based on informed choice. In addition, some of these issues have also been addressed by more fundamental changes to the screening paradigm such as more personalized approaches (using additional genetic and epigenetic information) to establishing eligibility criteria. The acceptability of using this information and its implication to offer more or less intensive screening and developing effective ways to understand the ability of the program to communicate this information are key challenges for the clinical, research and policy making community.