Attenuating or preventing cancer begins with understanding how the deviation starts. While molecular biologists uncover the errant signals that subvert cells, epidemiologists close in on environmental triggers--which are, for now, easier to target.

Cancer prevention strategies against long-known culprits are pervasive, yet mostly passive, such as admonitions to avoid smoking, sunning, and obesity. Efforts, however, span several levels, from the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, to communities in many nations banning smoking in public places, to numerous Web sites touting diets rich in fruits and vegetables. Add to these efforts early detection screens, such as Pap smears, mammograms, and prostate specific antigen (PSA) tests, and the battle against cancer is in motion. But chemoprevention--pharmaceuticals that counter cancer just before or as it starts--promises to put the struggle into high gear.

GENETIC ROOTS In the rare familial cancer syndromes, an overexpressed oncogene or disabled tumor suppressor gene, present...

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