Cancer And Exercise

Cancer. It’s perhaps the most frightening word in the English language. Although our medical system has made tremendous advances in the last few decades the grand prize of them all, the holy grail of medical science – a cancer cure – continues to elude researchers.

A cancer diagnosis is serious business. This disease claims over a half million lives each year in the United States alone. Cancer, in its many forms, has the ability to threaten each and every one of us no matter what our age.

Most Common Cancers:

The four most common types of cancer are prostate cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer and colorectal cancer. Although cancer death rates have been slowly declining for years, the death rate for prostate cancer remains 28.0 per 100,000. The death rate for breast cancer is 25.4 per 100,000. Colorectal cancer has the lowest death rate of the top four cancers, coming in at 19.6 per 100,000. The highest death rate is attributed to lung cancer at 54.8 per 100,000 (Source: Randolph E. Schmid; Associated Press).

Although researchers haven’t yet discovered a fail-proof cancer treatment, early detection can greatly improve the odds of survival. Screening tests that can find the first sign of cancer are becoming more popular. “As of 2003, 69.7 percent of women over 40 had a mammogram in the last two years, up from just 29 percent in 1987…..79.2 percent had a pap test for cervical cancer” (Source: Randolph E. Schmid; Associated Press).

How To Lower The Risk Of Most Cancers:

There is no cancer center or alternative cancer treatment that can promise a cure. However, it’s important to note that we do have the power to raise or lower our cancer risk. In fact, the choices we make in everyday life have a surprisingly large impact on our chances of contracting cancer. “Evidence suggests that one third of the 550,000 cancer deaths that occur in the United States each year are due to unhealthy diet and insufficient physical activity” (Source: Dr. Tim Byers and Colleen Doyle, MS, RD of the American Cancer Society).

Experts, such as those at the American Cancer Society, point to several behavior modifications that can be made to lower the risk of cancer. For example, wearing sun-block and minimizing exposure to the sun can lower the risk of skin cancer. Reducing or stopping smoking altogether will lower the risk of many types of cancer, including mouth cancer and throat cancer. Other lifestyle changes that may lower cancer risk include limiting the consumption of alcohol and high-fat foods.

Although rarely mentioned in the major media, scientists are now realizing that perhaps the biggest cause of cancer in our society today is lack of exercise. As a matter of fact, it’s no understatement to say that the best cancer insurance you can purchase today is to invest in a gym membership.

“For the majority of Americans who do not smoke, eating a healthful diet and being physically active are the most important ways to reduce cancer risk” (Source: Dr. Tim Byers and Colleen Doyle, MS, RD of the American Cancer Society). Regular exercise helps you maintain a healthy weight, which is important for cancer prevention. Overweight or obese individuals have a higher risk of several cancers, including breast and colon cancer, esophageal cancer, and kidney cancers.

“Being overweight works in a variety of ways to increase cancer risk. These include mechanical ways in which abdominal obesity leads to acid reflux into the esophagus, and hormonal ways, in which obesity increases circulating levels of hormones such as estrogen and insulin that can stimulate cancer growth. Achieving an ideal weight need not be the first goal, though, as substantial benefits can come from first stopping weight gain, then beginning to achieve a modest amount of weight loss.” (Source: Dr. Tim Byers and Colleen Doyle, MS, RD of the American Cancer Society). The single best way to obtain weight loss and normalize hormonal balance is through regular exercise.

The Calle Study:

Researcher Eugenia Calle, PhD, in a study published in Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine (Vol. 348, No. 17: 1625-1638), found that overweight and obesity may account for 20% of all cancer deaths in US women and 14% in US men. That means 90,000 cancer deaths could be prevented each year if Americans could only maintain a normal, healthy body weight.

According to the research done by Calle and her colleagues, the heaviest men in the study had death rates from all cancers combined that were 52% higher than the rates among normal-weight men. The heaviest women had cancer death rates 62% higher than normal-weight women.

Adding to the conclusions of previous studies, Calle found that being overweight or obese was linked to uterus cancer, kidney cancer, esophagus cancer, rectal cancer, and cancers of the gallbladder, colon, and breast (in postmenopausal women).

Because obesity increases a woman’s risk of developing the disease in the first place, and her risk of dying from it once she has it, the effects on breast cancer are compounded, Calle said,

The researchers also found that many types of cancer that were not previously linked to obesity were indeed impacted by excess body weight. Those included cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer, liver cancer, stomach cancer (in men), prostate cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma and multiple myeloma.

“Overweight and obesity has a very broad impact on cancer across most cancer sites,” Calle said. “That’s not something that’s really in the consciousness of the American people.” In fact, in an American Cancer Society survey conducted in 2002, just 1% of Americans identified maintaining a healthy weight as a way to reduce cancer risk.

Additional Studies Reinforce The Cancer/Exercise Link:

Besides the Calle research, there are multiple studies proving a link between regular exercise and a lower risk of cancer.

“A longitudinal study of Harvard alumni found that highly active or even moderately active individuals had a substantially lower risk of developing both colon and lung cancer than alumni who were less active or sedentary” (Source: Cedric X. Bryant, Ph.D., ACE’s Chief Exercise Physiologist).

“Heart disease and diabetes get all the attention, but expanding waistlines increase the risk for at least nine types of cancer, too. And with the obesity epidemic showing no signs of waning, specialists say they need to better understand how fat cells fuels cancer growth so they might fight back. What’s already clear: Being overweight can make it harder to spot tumors early, catch recurrences, determine the best chemotherapy dose, even fit into radiation machines. That in turn hurts chances of survival. One major study last year estimated that excess weight may account for 14 percent to 20 percent of all cancer deaths – 90,000 a year.” (Source: LAURAN NEERGAARD, AP Medical Writer; Mon Aug 23, 9:09 PM ET).

The Bottom Line:

The most important behavior we can adopt to minimize our risk of cancer is to stay active and maintain a healthy weight through regular exercise. Adults should exercise at least thirty minutes each day, but with exercise more is better. Diet is important, too. The American Cancer Society recommends eating five or more servings of fruit and vegetables every day, choosing whole grains over processed grains, and limiting red meat. Of course, alcohol consumption and smoking should also be curtailed to lower the risk of most cancers.

Cancer research continues, and new cancer drugs are being developed even now. Here in the United States we are extremely fortunate to have some of the finest cancer treatment centers in the world. But we still do not have a cancer cure. Until we do, protect yourself by exercising regularly and eating a healthy low-fat diet full of vegetables.

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