Better Habits Could Slash U.S. Cancer

Better Habits Could Slash U.S. Cancer


by Maggie Fox

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – If people would quit smoking, eat more healthily and exercise, cancer deaths could be cut by nearly a third, a report issued on Monday said.

Lifestyle changes and better screening could prevent almost 100,000 new cancer cases and 60,000 cancer deaths each year, the report from the Institute of Medicine said.

It said the biggest cuts would come in lung cancer, the No. 1 cancer killer in the United States and many other countries, and colon cancer, the No. 3 killer.

“What’s new here is the growing body of evidence confirming that interventions that get people to change their behaviors do work,” Susan Curry of the University of Illinois at Chicago, who helped write the report, said in a statement.

The American Cancer Society says nearly 1.3 million Americans were diagnosed with cancer and 500,000 died from cancer in 2002. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, after heart disease.

Curry noted it is very difficult to make the changes needed to lower cancer rates. The American Cancer Society and other groups focused on cancer prevention recommend a diet based on plant foods such as fruits and vegetables and whole grains, which many Americans are reluctant to adopt.

Colon cancer, for example, which kills 57,000 Americans a year, is linked to a diet rich in fat and red meat, as well as to smoking. Colonoscopies and other methods of cancer screening can catch colon cancer early, while it is still easy to cure.

Quitting smoking could prevent virtually all cases of lung cancer, which was a relatively uncommon disease before cigarettes became popular. Deaths among men from lung cancer have dropped markedly, although rates among women, who started smoking more in recent decades, are still rising.

“Although personal experience illustrates for most people the great difficulty of achieving sustained behavioral change, Americans have made substantial improvements in their health habits in the past few decades,” the report said.

The institute, which advises the federal government on health issues such as vitamin intake and health insurance, recommends stricter enforcement of tobacco laws–especially sales on the Internet, where minors can easily obtain products.

Taxes on tobacco are “the single most effective method for reducing the demand for tobacco,” the report said.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson earlier this month rejected an HHS committee’s recommendation to raise federal cigarette taxes by $2 a pack to discourage smoking and fund stop-smoking programs.

The report also recommended that insurers–including Medicare and Medicaid–pay for cancer prevention and detection services that have been shown to work, such as nicotine replacement therapy, breast cancer screening for women age 50 and older, cervical cancer screening for all sexually active women and colon cancer screening.

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