December 5, 1998 | By: Ellen Brightwell

Despite a decline in the U.S. cancer rate in recent years, Kentucky has higher levels of certain types of cancer. However, Kentuckians can make some lifestyle changes to help reduce the risk of cancer. This disease is the Commonwealth's second leading cause of death after coronary heart disease.

"The number of new cancer cases and deaths is declining nationwide, largely because many people have changed health-related behaviors," said Janet Tietyen, assistant professor of food and nutrition for the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. "However, Kentucky has a slightly higher level in all cases of cancer. The rates are higher for all cancers in women as well as lung and colorectal cancer in men and women, according to data from the Kentucky Cancer Registry's '1996 Kentucky Cancer Incidence.'

"We need to take better care of ourselves to reduce the chances of developing cancer. Daily practices that increase our risk of cancer include eating and smoking habits and lack of physical activity. Knowing the importance of medical screening techniques and using these and other health care practices can decrease our risk of developing this disease."

"Most people don't just wake up one morning and have cancer," she added. "Lifetime behavior has a cumulative effect on the risk of developing some types of cancer such as breast, colon and lung, especially in later years. While some people have a genetic predisposition that increases the risk for certain types of cancer, many can reduce the risk of cancer by changing their diet, exercise and smoking habits."

Nationwide, about 35 percent of the cancer deaths are related to poor eating habits, according to the American Dietetic Association.

From a dietary standpoint, Tietyen said, people can help lower cancer risk factors by eating foods that are low in saturated fats and high in dietary fiber and nutrients, notably calcium and folic acid.

Fruits, vegetables and whole-grain products are good sources of fiber and many nutrients essential for good health. Foods that are plentiful in fiber and nutrients include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and other greens, as well as fruits, especially those eaten with the peeling like apples, pears and the like.

Some research studies have indicated that consuming sufficient calcium and folic acid, a B complex vitamin, might help reduce the risk of colon cancer. To supply the calcium, but not excess fat, Tietyen recommended eating at least two to three servings daily of low-fat or no-fat dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese. Ready-to-eat or fortified cereals, leafy green vegetables, beans and nuts are good sources of folic acid.

Nutrient-rich diets also tend to be low in calories, which helps people lose excess pounds and maintain a healthful weight.

"Many studies offer proof positive that increasing physical activity can decrease the risk of certain cancers, including colon cancer which is the third most common cancer in the U.S.," Tietyen said. "Other studies have shown decreased risks of lung and prostate cancer among people who exercise moderately. Even small amounts of exercise such as gardening, cleaning house and walking briskly, on a regular basis are helpful. The American Cancer Society recommends at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days, preferably five times a week.

"It's also important to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Obesity is a risk factor for many types of cancer as well as other major health problems such as diabetes and coronary heart disease."

Early detection is critical to increase the cure rate for many types of cancer, including colon and breast, according to Tietyen.

"Many screening procedures are available today to help reduce the severity of cancer as well as the death rate," she said. "For instance, the cure rate for colon cancer can reach 90 percent when the disease is detected early. So check with your physician about the various screening techniques if you have a genetic predisposition that increases your risk of cancer or if your diet, exercise or smoking habits increase your chance of developing this disease."

Several Extension publications have additional information on eating for health. They include "The Diet and Cancer Connection," "Phytochemicals for Cancer Prevention," "Quick and Easy Meals to Lower Cancer Risk" and "Women and Cancer." These publications are available by contacting the county Extension office.

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Contact: 

Writer: Ellen Brightwell
(606) 257-1376

Source: Janet Tietyen
(606) 257-1812