Secrets To Reducing Your Odds of
Getting Cancer: Eat Well, Get Fit, Stop Smoking
wanted to start today to reduce your chances of getting cancer, what
would you have to do? Lose excess weight, get more exercise, eat a
healthy diet and quit smoking.
basic behavior changes would have a tremendous impact on the incidence
of the most prevalent types of cancer — lung, breast,
and colon cancer — says Graham Colditz, M.D., Dr.P.H.,
director of Prevention and Control at the Siteman Cancer Center at
Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Barnes-Jewish
estimate that more than 50 percent of cancer incidence could be
prevented if we act today on what we already know," Colditz said.
year, more than 500,000 Americans die from cancer. The National Cancer
Institute estimates that on average each person who dies from cancer
loses 15 years of life, and altogether cancer deaths were responsible
for nearly 8.7 million person-years of life lost in 2003, the most
recent year for which the data were available.
loss of life and earning potential and the social impact of cancer are
enormous," Colditz says. "Reducing risk by adopting lifestyle changes
like quitting smoking and losing weight isn't always easy, but it may
help to remember that these behavior changes can also reduce your risk
of heart disease, diabetes, stroke and osteoporosis."
recommendations for preventing cancer also include avoiding excess
alcohol consumption, taking a multivitamin with folate and protecting
yourself from too much sun and from sexually transmitted diseases.
recently became leader of the Siteman Center's cancer prevention
program having previously headed the Harvard Center for Cancer
hold that 20 to 30 percent of the most common cancers in the United
States stem from being overweight or physically inactive. Research has
linked weight gain to common cancers such as breast and colon cancer,
as well as uterine, esophageal and renal cancers. "Women who lose
weight in their adult years reduce their risk of breast cancer
significantly," Colditz notes.
he asserts that a clear connection exists between higher levels of
physical activity and lower incidence of cancer. "For example, even
after diagnosis of breast cancer, physical activity has an impact on
recurrence and survival," he says.
people breathe in, drink or eat can influence whether they get cancer.
It's well known that smoking is associated with lung cancer, but less
commonly understood is that smokers also are more likely to get
colorectal cancer as well as kidney, pancreatic, cervical and stomach
rate at which risk drops after stopping smoking varies for different
cancer sites," Colditz says. "But it's very clear that within five to
10 years there will be a 50 percent reduction in cancer risk compared
to people who keep smoking."
some recent evidence has suggested that wine and other alcoholic
beverages may contain beneficial components, other data show that
overconsumption of alcohol increases the possibility of getting oral,
esophageal, breast and other cancers.
a plant-based diet can help protect against cancer. People who eat
diets rich in fruits and vegetables have a lower danger of cancers of
the colon, mouth, pharynx, esophagus, stomach and lung. Diets high in
red meat and animal fat increase the probability of certain cancers.
"There's a strong, consistent relation between higher intake of red
meat and higher risk of colon cancer," Colditz notes.
intake of folate, a B vitamin, may protect a person from cancer, and
epidemiological studies suggest that low folate status may play an
important role early in cancer development. Colditz says experts
recommend taking a multivitamin that contains folate every day.
long-term exposure to the sun and to artificial light from tanning
beds, booths and sun lamps can lower the danger of getting non-melanoma
skin cancer. Avoiding burns and other damage from these sources
especially in children and teens — can reduce the chances of
getting melanoma skin cancer.
viral infections have also been strongly linked to cancer development.
Some of the most important of these are human papillomavirus (HPV), a
cause of cervical cancer, hepatitis B and C viruses, major causes of
liver cancer, and Helicobacter pylori, which accounts for the majority
of cases of stomach cancer. HPV can be spread by sexual contact, and
vaccine-conferred immunity results in a marked decrease in precancerous
with the new cervical cancer vaccine, advances in chemoprevention will
likely add to the prevention potential that comes from healthy
lifestyle choices. "In the future we'll be seeing a range of new
preventative strategies," Colditz indicates. "For example, the National
Cancer Institute has a trial looking at selenium as a supplement to
prevent cancer. And research shows that antiestrogens may reduce the
risk of breast cancer by 60 to 80 percent in women after menopause."
University School of Medicine's full-time and volunteer faculty
physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis
For more information on the
Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, visit http://medschool.wustl.edu
– By Gwen Ericson –