By Hannah Hoag
An Ounce of Prevention ...
Even small changes in food and fitness can dramatically drop cancer risk
By Hannah Hoag
When a friend or a family member is diagnosed with cancer, it can shift life into a new perspective, full of “what ifs”—and especially questions about “What can I do?” Although there is no medical crystal ball to reveal if any of us will develop cancer, there are everyday choices that can be made to reduce the risk. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), nearly two-thirds of U.S. cancer deaths are attributable to lifestyle factors. No matter who you are, there are four tried-and-true ways to lower your chances of developing cancer.
The single most effective way to cut cancer risk is to stop using tobacco. U.S. cigarette consumption per capita is the lowest since World War II, but the ACS estimates that in 2008, lung cancer still will be the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., with 215,020 projected new cases and 161,840 deaths. Lung cancer is also the most preventable cancer—about 87 percent of these lung cancer deaths could be avoided if Americans quit smoking.
Quitting tobacco doesn’t just lower your risk of lung, esophagus, and head and neck cancers. Whether smoked or chewed, tobacco increases one’s risk of developing a wide variety of cancers. Tobacco damages nearly every organ in your body and is linked to at least 15 different kinds of cancer as well as a staggering 30 percent of all cancer deaths. Less well-known: Tobacco is also a leading cause of bladder cancer, which affects about 68,810 Americans a year. Studies have also shown that it’s an important risk factor in cancers of the kidney, breast, cervix, stomach, pancreas and colon, and in some types of leukemia.
It doesn’t help that smoking often goes hand in hand with alcohol consumption. Drinking more than two alcoholic beverages a day has been linked to cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver and breast, and possibly the colon and rectum. Moreover, studies show that for some cancers, combining alcohol and tobacco raises a person’s risk level more than that of drinking or smoking alone. If you’ve got to have a vice, stick with coffee—recent studies do not support a suggested link between coffee and pancreatic cancer, and experts say there doesn’t appear to be any link between coffee and increased cancer risk.
Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer; yet about 15 percent of all lung cancers are diagnosed in people who have never smoked, and not all smokers will develop lung cancer. To identify some of the other factors that affect lung cancer risk, Michele Forman, an epidemiologist at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, asked more than 3,800 people with and without lung cancer about their eating and exercise habits.