Lifestyle changes and screening will decrease risk of cancer, which is especially deadly in Kentucky

This Kentucky Cancer Consortium graph shows the
deaths from cancers with evidence-based prevention
or early detection methods in Kentucky in 2005-09.

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Kentucky has the nation’s highest rates of newly diagnosed cancers and death rate for all cancers combined, but Kentuckians could easily reduce those rates through proper screening and lifestyle changes, says a report from the Kentucky Cancer Consortium. Kentucky has a high death rate from lung, colon and cervical cancer, and leads in lung cancer deaths, with a rate almost 50 percent higher than the national rate.

The Nos. 1, 2 and 3 causes of cancer deaths in Kentucky, are lung, colon and breast cancer, and all three can be easily prevented or detected, according to the report.

Many risks associated with cancer are outside a person’s control, but lifestyle changes and screening tools have been proven to reduce cancer risk and to catch cancer early, said Mark Varvares, M.D., director of the Saint Louis University Cancer Center.

“Healthy choices and preventive screenings won’t totally erase cancer, but they can reduce our risk in a really meaningful way,” Varvares said in a news release. “They offer us the chance to change the course of the future, if we take advantage of them.”

According to the American Cancer Society, “More than half of all cancer deaths could be prevented by making healthy choices like not smoking, staying at a healthy weight, eating right, keeping active, and getting recommended screening tests.”

Specific suggestions made by the Saint Louis University Medical Center to reduce the risk of cancer are:

#1: Quit smoking. Smoking causes most lung cancer deaths in the U.S.

#2: Eat a healthy diet.
Obesity is a risk factor for many cancers, including those of the esophagus, pancreas, colon, and breast. A healthy diet includes foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains, which  also linked reduce cancer risk. Limiting red meats and processed meats can lower your risk of colorectal cancer. Many specific foods, like leafy green vegetables or blueberries, have been shown to have specific anti-cancer properties.

 #3: Exercise. Studies show exercise lowers risk of colon and breast cancer. There also appear to be links between exercise and reduced prostate, lung and endometrial cancer risks.

 #4 Limit alcohol. Excessive alcohol is bad for your health, and can raise the risk of certain types of cancer. For women, even a few drinks a week may increase breast cancer risk. The overuse of mouthwash, which contains alcohol, been linked to mouth cancer, Varvares said in the report. The recommended maximum amount of alcohol is two 4-ounce drinks per day for men and one for women.

#5: Wear sunscreen and avoid tanning beds altogether. Sunscreen, which blocks dangerous rays from the sun, is your best bet to avoid skin cancer.  Tanning-bed users have a high incidence of skin cancer.

#6: Get screened. Colonoscopy, pap smears and mammography can be life-saving tools.

 #7 Get vaccinated.
The human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine lowers cervical-cancer rates in women, and is now being recommended for boys as well as girls partly because it shows promise in preventing head and neck cancer, too.

 #8: Consider genetic counseling. This is a possible option for those with a family history of certain cancers, but should be a decision made with your doctor and with careful consideration of what you will do with the results.   In deciding whether or not to have the screening, Suzanne Mahon, genetic counselor at Saint Lois University Cancer Center says, “Patients should ask ‘Is this something I really want to know about myself. If I know I am at high genetic risk of developing cancer, am I going to do something with this information?’”

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