Friday, June 29, 2007

Web Tool for Estimating Risk of Five Major Diseases

A few clicks of the mouse tell visitors to the "Your Disease Risk" Web site their risk for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, stroke and osteoporosis. The Siteman Cancer Center at Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis recently launched this easy-to-use tool, which offers a wealth of information about risk factors and prevention strategies for five prominent diseases affecting millions of Americans.

On the Web site (, users can answer a series of simple questionnaires about their medical history, eating habits, exercise and other behaviors and then get a personalized estimate of their risk for 12 different cancers plus heart disease, diabetes, stroke and osteoporosis. Users will also find tips on how to lower their disease risk and convenient Web links to fact sheets that describe the origins and symptoms of each disease.

"The key message is that we already have information to prevent much of the chronic disease that affects the population," says Graham Colditz, M.D., Dr.P.H., the Niess-Gain Professor and associate director of Prevention and Control at the Siteman Cancer Center. "If we can spread the word about prevention strategies, people can start early in life to prevent disease later. We know that it can be hard to decide among all the health claims in the media, and we established this site to make it easy for people to find reliable recommendations for better health and to identify strategies that are best for them."

It is estimated that healthy lifestyles could prevent over half of cancers, 70 percent of strokes and 80 percent of heart disease and diabetes. In addition to detailing the impact of well-known risk factors like smoking, lack of exercise and being overweight, "Your Disease Risk" offers many other important health tips, such as the benefits of calcium and vitamin D for both colon and bone health, the increased risk of diabetes from eating too many refined grains and the increased risk of stroke in apple-shaped people who carry extra fat around the waist.

The site's developers tested its usability with focus groups to make sure all the components are streamlined and understandable. Visitors to the site can choose to investigate just one of the diseases, but answers given in one area carry over to all other areas to avoid the need to repeat answers when learning about more than one disease. A Spanish language version will soon be available on the site's home page.

"We think the site is very accessible and attractive," Colditz says. "We sincerely hope that people make good use of it and feel they come away with a practical, personalized list of what they can do to improve their health."

"Your Disease Risk" reflects recent evidence from the medical community to assure that users are up to date. "We have a system of review that looks at published scientific research on disease risk and makes additions or changes when significant new data become available," Colditz says. "As we go forward, the prevention and control team at the Siteman Cancer Center will continue to ensure the accuracy and relevancy of the site."

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