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In new year, resolve to learn your risks of cancer, type 2 diabetes, other diseases

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Washington University School of Medicine
A free online tool developed by researchers at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School... A free online tool developed by researchers at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis measures a person’s individual risk of 12 common cancers and five major chronic diseases. (Getty Images)

A free online tool developed by researchers at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis measures a person’s individual risk of 12 common cancers and five major chronic diseases. (Getty Images)

Many cancers and chronic diseases are influenced by lifestyle and can be prevented. But most of us don’t know where to start. As the new year begins, an easy first step is the Your Disease Risk website. It offers a free online tool that measures a person’s individual risk of 12 common cancers and five major chronic diseases.

The tool, developed by researchers at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, incorporates the latest scientific evidence on disease risk.

Users are asked to answer a series of simple questions about their medical history, eating habits, exercise and other behaviors. They then receive personalized estimates of their risks for bladder, breast, cervical, colon, kidney, lung, melanoma, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate, stomach and uterine cancer, as well as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, osteoporosis and emphysema/chronic bronchitis.

Newly rebuilt and easier to use, the website is easily accessible on mobile, tablet and laptop devices, as well as desktop computers. Users also receive personal prevention recommendations and can see how lifestyle changes – such as eating more vegetables or exercising more frequently – can lower their disease risk.

It is estimated that healthy lifestyles could prevent half of all cancers and up to 80 percent of cases of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

“We know how to prevent many cancers and chronic diseases,” said Graham Colditz, MD, DrPH. “But many people don’t know their disease risks or what, specifically, they can do to reduce those risks. Your Disease Risk is easy to use and is continually updated to incorporate new scientific data on disease risk and prevention.”

Colditz, the Niess-Gain Professor of Surgery at the School of Medicine and associate director of prevention and control at Siteman, developed Your Disease Risk with Hank Dart, a public health expert at Siteman. Colditz is an expert in disease prevention and chronic disease epidemiology. Among other roles, he was the principal investigator on the Nurses’ Health Study from 1996 to 2006. The study of nearly 122,000 nurses investigated risk factors for major chronic diseases in women. Colditz also established and was the founding principal investigator on the Growing Up Today Study, which related the diets and lifestyles of nearly 17,000 adolescents ages 9 to 14 to their growth and health outcomes.

Your Disease Risk, first unveiled 17 years ago, has been revitalized with an improved user experience and updated risk calculations. Upgrades include:

  • User-friendly design. Your Disease Risk now works across multiple media platforms: smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers.
  •  Updated science. Regular reviews keep Your Disease Risk current regarding scientific evidence on disease risk factors.
  • Innovative “Risk Snapshot.” By answering one series of questions, the new Snapshot tool provides users with quick risk estimates of three major cancers – breast, lung and colon – as well as type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease.
  • Ranking of behavior-change benefits. Using a three-arrow scale, users can easily see which health recommendations are likely to lower their disease risk the most.

The website does not ask users to register, so no personal information is collected or stored. All information is deleted when users exit the site.

“We were one of the first online risk-assessment tools, launching in January 2000 and reaching millions of people with important health messages since,” Colditz said. “We’re excited to continue helping people improve their health and well-being with an updated, modern site.”