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home / at home / disease prevention / story
Disease Prevention

Personal Behaviors Are What Really
Matter in Avoiding Cancer


If people want the greatest control over their own likelihood of developing cancer, they should look to a few of their own behaviors, recent American Cancer Society research indicates.

Two factors, and perhaps a third, are directly responsible for about half of all cancer deaths in the United States, according to John R. Seffrin, Ph.D., CEO of the American Cancer Society and American Association for Health Educators (AAHE) Scholar. And, people have direct personal control over all of them:

Whether a person smokes — Tobacco is the cause of about 30 percent of all cancer deaths, and 19 percent of deaths from ALL conditions.

What a person eats and drinks — As much as 35 percent of all cancer deaths are related to our diets. Diets rich in fruits and vegetables reduce cancer risk.

The degree to which a person exercises and controls their weight — Recent American Cancer Society data show the probability of death from cancer and other causes also increases significantly depending on the degree of obesity and the level of physical activity.

The data, derived from the American Cancer Society's Cancer Prevention Study II, show that people who are smokers and never exercise and who avoid diets low in fruits and vegetables, are about four times more likely to die prematurely than individuals who eat healthy, exercise and don't smoke. Premature death from cancer alone is about three times more likely in those with these unhealthy behaviors.

Regular physical activity and avoiding smoking are the two most productive behaviors for lowering the risk of death from all causes in mid-life, the study found. In terms of reducing cancer risk specifically, the study showed that a diet high in fruits and vegetables and avoiding smoking are the strongest predictors.

"These findings dramatically illustrate the importance of public health education," Seffrin said. "With rather modest and inexpensive lifestyle changes, literally thousands of premature deaths during the prime of life could be avoided nationwide. It is clear that these few lifestyle changes can add life to your years and years to your life."

Address: The American Cancer Society, 1599 Clifton Road NE, Atlanta, GA 30329-4251; (404) 320-3333.

Copyright 1999 Health Resources Publishing


© 2000 Health Resources Publishing