Each year, nearly 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed with cancer; there are more than 500,000 annual deaths. Right now, approximately 35% of Americans have a possibility of developing cancer in their lifetime. It appears that poor dietary habits and smoking contribute to the cause of the six most common types of cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends the following to help reduce the risk of cancer:

  1. Maintain your ideal body weight. Cancers of the uterus, gallbladder, kidney, stomach, breast, and colon have been associated with obesity.
  2. Vary your daily diet. Eat in moderation with a wide variety of food choices.
  3. Eat at least 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. A good rule of thumb is to eat at least three different colors of fruits and vegetables each day. There are different bioactive ingredients in the pigment of fruits and vegetables that may reduce cancer risks.
  4. Eat food that is high in dietary fiber. High-fiber foods include whole grain cereals, legumes and vegetables. High-fiber diets are associated with a decreased risk of colon cancer.
  5. Minimize your daily fat intake. Ideally, 25 to 30 grams of fat are enough. However, fat-restricted diets are not recommended for young children.
  6. If you smoke, STOP. If you are around someone who smokes, get away. People who quit smoking -- regardless of age -- live longer than those who continue to smoke. Quitting smoking decreases the risk of lung, laryngeal, esophageal, oral, pancreatic, bladder, and cervical cancer. There are over 4,000 chemical compounds and 43 different carcinogenic substances in nicotine. Smoking is the most preventable cause of death in our society.
  7. Limit the amount of alcohol that you drink. Alcohol use is associated with an increased risk of esophageal, oropharyngeal cancer, and breast cancer. People who have a high consumption of beer also have an increased risk of rectal cancer. Increased incidences of liver cancer are also noted in alcoholics.
  8. Limit your consumption of salt. In particular, you should avoid cured, smoked, and nitrite-preserved foods. International studies reveal higher incidences of stomach and esophageal cancers in people who consume large amounts of these products.
  9. Take vitamin D supplements (1000 IU-2000 IU daily). Low levels of vitamin D have been associated with increased risk of breast, colon and pancreatic cancer.

What will happen if I follow these guidelines?

By adhering to these guidelines and sticking with a regular exercise program (2 to 3 times a week), you may be able to significantly reduce your risk of cancer.

More research and education is under way to improve health habits in American citizens. Until we learn more, do what Mom says: "Eat your vegetables" -- and plenty of them!

How can you achieve these guidelines?

  • Exercise with a friend.
  • Keep a weekly record of your dietary habits and exercise program.
  • Make small changes in your diet over time.
  • Read and stay informed of new dietary guidelines for cancer prevention.
  • Reward yourself periodically.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/21/2010.

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