Get a jump on cancers

On Call

November 12, 1996|By Dr. Simeon Margolis | Dr. Simeon Margolis,Special to The Sun

As far as we know, no one in our immediate families has had cancer; but my husband and I would like to know what steps we might take to lessen the chances that we are or our children will get it.

The single most effective way to limit your risk of cancer is to avoid smoking. Cigarette smoking is estimated to account for one third of all cancer deaths in this country, and is the underlying cause of the vast majority of the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women in the United States -- lung cancer. Smoking also plays a prominent role in the development of cancers of the bladder, colon, throat, mouth and other sites.

Another third of cancer deaths in the U.S. is linked to dietary factors. After a review of scientific evidence, the American Cancer Society 1966 Advisory Committee on Diet, Nutrition, and Cancer Prevention recently issued guidelines for "reducing the risk of cancer with healthy food choices and physical activity." These measures tend to protect against the development of coronary artery disease, obesity and diabetes:

Choose most of the food you eat from plant sources. Strong scientific evidence indicates that eating fruits and vegetables lowers the risk of cancer, especially colon cancer. The guidelines recommend at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day as part of meals and snacks. Also recommended are 6 to 11 servings of other healthful foods from plant sources, such as rice, pasta, breads, cereals, grain products, and beans. Plant foods contain many vitamins and minerals as well as fiber.

Limit high-fat foods, particularly from animal sources. Increased risk of colorectal, prostate and uterine cancers has been associated with high-fat diets.

Limit alcohol use. Alcohol raises the risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus and possibly breast.

Be physically active and maintain a healthy weight.

Limit exposure to sunlight.Ultraviolet light causes three types of skin cancer: basal cell and squamous cell cancers and the especially dangerous melanoma. Together they account for 10 percent of all cancers and about 2 percent of all cancer deaths.

Dr. Margolis is professor of medicine and biological chemistry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Pub Date: 11/12/96

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