WASHINGTON, DC — There are simple adjustments you can make to your daily routine that will reduce your chances of developing cancer. That’s the message from cancer researchers during February 2004, the first National Cancer Prevention Month.
“By focusing on factors you can control, you can reduce your cancer risk significantly. Healthier eating patterns, regular exercise and maintenance of a reasonable weight can reduce incidence of cancer by 30 to 40 percent,” said Ritva Butrum, Ph.D., Senior Science Advisor for the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR).
The United States Senate recently designated February 2004 as National Cancer Prevention Month. In doing so, it stated that Americans “need to recognize and be reminded that they can help prevent cancer through lifestyle changes, including modification of diet, cessation of smoking and regular exercise.”
A recent AICR survey showed that 98 percent of Americans are aware that eliminating tobacco use can reduce cancer risk. But the same survey fielded in 2003 showed that less than half of us are even aware of the other steps we can take to limit our chances of developing the disease.
Only 42 percent were aware of the protective effect of diet in regard to cancer. Just over one-third (36 percent) knew about the protective effect of physical exercise, and 45 percent of respondents were aware of the link between obesity and greater cancer risk.
Trended against figures gathered in 2001, awareness of the positive effects of diet and exercise actually fell. Only awareness in regard to obesity rose by 10 percentage points, probably due to recent public education programs relating to the obesity epidemic.
Changes You Can Make
A heavy preponderance of the research suggests that eating a predominantly plant-based diet provides strong protection against cancer. That means filling your plate with vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans, and if all these foods crowd the meat dish to the side so much the better.
Scientists believe that these plant foods supply the vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals (plant substances) that in combination bolster the body’s capacity to prevent or inhibit the cancer process. The National Cancer Institute recommends five to ten servings of vegetables and fruits each day.
Where a plant-based diet reduces cancer risk, there is convincing evidence that obesity promotes the cancer process. Scientists frequently point out that fat is not inert and that the activity of fat cells, particularly if they are present in excess, can jeopardize health.
In fact, fat cells seem to behave like endocrine cells, releasing hormones and other growth factors into the blood stream. These substances stimulate growth through cell division, and this accelerated cell division is thought to increase the opportunity for cancer to develop.
Evidence that physical activity can reduce cancer incidence is mounting. Regular exercise is effective in curtailing weight gain, and therefore can mitigate the negative effect of obesity on tumor formation.
But recent research suggests a more direct link between physical activity and cancer. Physical activity seems to regulate the production of hormones and insulin-like growth factors that obesity and overweight accelerate.
“All of this recent research allows the experts to write a prescription for reducing the likelihood of getting cancer. Increase your intake of vegetables and fruit. Get more exercise. And watch your waist. Losing a few pounds, if it is necessary, should be a lot easier if you substitute vegetables and fruit for fatty foods and exercise more,” said Melanie Polk, R.D., AICR’s Director of Nutrition Education.
Making Those Changes
The experts advise making changes in your routine slowly, but steadily. They suggest gradually substituting vegetables or fruit for animal protein or fat-laden snacks. After consulting a doctor, choose suitable physical activities and slowly build up the time spent on it. As for maintaining a healthy weight, the best way to approach that is to gradually increase intake of plant foods and the time being active.
“National Cancer Prevention Month is a good time to start making those changes,” Polk said. “But go easy. Add a second vegetable to your dinner plate. Take a 20-minute walk after lunch. Then start monitoring the effect of these changes on your waist. After a week or two, take the next step.”
The final objective Polk suggests is five to ten servings of vegetables and fruit each day, one hour of physical activity each day and comfortably wearing the pants or skirt you bought five years ago. But any start toward those objectives is a movement away from cancer and the other chronic diseases that cloud our later years or eclipse them.
Cancer is the second most frequent cause of death among Americans. There are 1.3 million new cases of the disease diagnosed each year, and 550,000 lives lost.
Visit http://www.aicr.org/brochures/stp.htm to read Simple Steps to Prevent Cancer or order the new brochure online. To get a single free copy delivered to your home, call 1-800-843-8114, ext. 414, Monday through Friday, 9:00 to 5:30 Eastern Time.