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LIFELONG HEALTH- Personalized Responsibility Has Role in Cancer Fight PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dr. David Lipschitz, Creative Syndicate   
Thursday, 03 May 2012 01:54

The news about cancer continues to be good. A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that death rates decreased by 1.6 percent annually from 2004 to 2008 for lung, colorectal and prostate cancer. Death rates from breast cancer have remained stable — but steep declines occurred in the early 2000s because of reduced use of hormone replacement therapy.

But the death rates from certain cancers are increasing. These include pancreatic, uterine and esophageal cancer. And deaths from malignant melanoma are reaching epidemic proportions, particularly in the Sun Belt States.

While the overall rates of death are falling, the actual numbers of cancers are increasing as the 72 million baby boomers reach old age. In 2011, the American Cancer Society reported 1.6 million newly diagnosed cancers and 580,000 deaths. The most common were lung (160,000 deaths), colorectal (49,000 deaths), breast (39,000 deaths), pancreas (37,000 deaths) and prostate (34,000 deaths).

Many cancers are more common in families that may carry certain genes that increase the risk of certain cancers, such as colon, breast, bladder and uterus. The risk of colon and prostate cancer is much higher in blacks than whites. For anyone who is at increased risk, diligent screening is critical to identify and treat cancer as early as possible. Screening may be required at a much earlier age for those at high risk.

And while there is controversy about the use of the PSA to screen for prostate cancer in healthy men, there is agreement that it should be done in high-risk individuals and populations. We must understand that we are all at risk for cancer, and every one of us should follow the standard guidelines for screening for the common cancers afflicting us.

While we cannot do much about our genes, there is general consensus that we can reduce our cancer risk. Over the past 50 years, concerted efforts have been undertaken to reduce pollutants in the environment and in our food that can cause cancer. Smoking cessation and avoiding excessive exposure to irradiation (which occurs each time a CT scan is done) should always be encouraged.

Just as critical is the compelling link between cancer and obesity, the foods we eat and a sedentary lifestyle. According to the National Cancer Institute, there is a strong relationship between obesity and the risk of colorectal, breast (after the menopause), pancreatic, esophageal, thyroid and gall bladder cancer. But whether the threat is our weight or our food choices is still not clear. We do know that a high-fat diet increases cancer risk irrespective of weight. And the kind of fat is key. Diets high in saturated fats (from animal products) and polyunsaturated fats (soy, corn and safflower) increase cancer risk.

By contrast, monounsaturated fats found in olive and canola oil decrease cancer risk. Omega 6 fatty acids found in animal fat increase cancer risk, while omega 3 found in nuts and fish oil reduces risk. It is not how much fat but which fats you eat that are important. Cancer also is more prevalent in those who become overweight because of too many calories from sugar and starches. This increases the risk of diabetes and cancer. The message is clear: A healthful, prudent diet is essential to reduce the risk of obesity and to decrease the risk of the most common diseases leading to our demise (vascular disease and cancer).

And finally, more and more evidence indicates a link between a sedentary lifestyle and cancer. Numerous research studies have shown a strong link between inactivity and a higher risk of colon, breast, uterine, and prostate cancer. And the risk of lung cancer is 20 percent higher in smokers who are inactive as compared to those who exercise.

There is much to celebrate about advances made against cancer. Lifestyle changes have decreased the risk, and improved screening and better therapies have led to more and more cures. But much needs to be done. More research is needed to optimize diagnosis and treatment, and we must personally commit to doing everything possible to assure that we remain cancer free.