STUDY: You Have More Control Than You Think Over Whether You Get Cancer

A stunning new report from the American Cancer Society shows you have far more control over whether you will get cancer than you might think, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

Dr. Steven Kalter, an oncologist at San Antonio's START Center for Cancer Care, says the research shows that fully 42% of all cancer cases in the US in 2014, resulting in 45% of the cancer deaths, were caused largely or entirely by the patient's own actions.

"Foremost among all the things we can do is not smoke," Dr. Kalter said.  "Tobacco use is to blame for at least 20% of all cancer deaths."

About 600,000 people are expected to die from cancer in 2017. and 1.5 million new cases of cancer are diagnosed annually in the United States.  Dr. Kalter says the death rate from cancer has declined by 25% since 1991, and one of the main reasons is a new awareness of the direct role that personal behavior plays in getting cancer.

"Alcohol use, being overweight, eating red and processed meats, having too few fruits and vegetables in our diet, not exercising," Dr. Kalter listed as factors which contribute to several types of cancers.  He added exposure to UV rays in places like those 'tanning salons' and as well as six cancer related infections, like HPV, which is, in itself, preventable through vaccine.

Causes other than smoking, like excess weight, alcohol use and lack of exercise are more likely to lead to cancers in women than in men, according to the report.  In fact, when it comes to women, those factors were a greater cause of new cancer diagnosis in 2014 than smoking.

"I think the thing to keep in mind for our listeners is, you need to do the best you can to diminish your risk," Dr. Kalter said.

He stressed that this study by no means indicates that people who avoid the risk factors will not get cancer.  He pointed out 'inexplicable' cancers in small children who have participated in none of these risky behaviors.  

He says studies have shown that many cancer cases are, for example, genetic in nature.

Dr. Kalter says the sharp drop in cancer mortality since 1991 is due to people avoiding the risk factors, and is also due to a new awareness of the importance of early detection of cancer.

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