THURSDAY, August 16, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- While the number of deaths from cancer have been declining, many malignancies could be prevented by exercising, eating right, maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking, a new federal report finds.
The President's Cancer Panel issues a report every year that focuses on one aspect of what is happening in the United States in terms of cancer.
This year's effort "centers on lifestyle changes, and two issues that are actually quite different," said panel member Margaret L. Kripke, executive vice president and chief academic officer at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston.
One issue is nutrition, exercise and the fight against obesity, and the other is the battle to cut tobacco use, Kripke said.
"We tried to think of what would have the biggest impact on reducing cancer mortality," she said. "If you consider that 15 to 20 percent of cancer deaths are related to obesity and another 30 percent of cancer deaths are due to tobacco use, that's 50 percent of all people with cancer."
And quitting smoking and avoiding obesity are things that people can do themselves, Kripke noted. But, as she and other experts know, it's not easy to get people to make the lifestyle changes they should.
"The most serious lack, in terms of what we know, is what motivates people to live a healthier lifestyle," she said.
The experts call for a move toward a "culture of wellness" in the United States. This culture would embrace healthy living as a goal and promote a healthy lifestyle as a way of achieving wellness.
Despite progress in diagnosis and treatment, cancer continues to account for more than a half million deaths each year in the United States, with almost 1.5 million new cases diagnosed annually. Two-thirds of these deaths, and many thousands of new cases, could be avoided through lifestyle changes, according to the report.
Tobacco is the leading cause of lung cancer, but it's also responsible for most cancers of the larynx, oral cavity and pharynx, esophagus and bladder. In addition, it is a cause of kidney, pancreatic, cervical and stomach cancers, along with acute myeloid leukemia. "We really need to get rid of tobacco," Kripke said.
Obesity has been linked to a variety of cancers, including colon, breast, kidney, ovarian and pancreatic cancer. "There are very definitive studies showing that moderate exercise reduces your risk of breast cancer and colon cancer," Kripke said.
In addition, living a healthy lifestyle lowers a person's risk of cancer recurrence and improves outcomes after cancer, Kripke said.
The causes of the obesity epidemic in the United States are complex, Kripke said. The epidemic started in the 1970s about the time that food makers started using high fructose corn syrup as an additive. In addition, portion sizes in restaurants increased as schools cut back on exercise programs.
The obesity problem has grown steadily over the past 30 years. "I don't think there is going to be a quick fix," she said.
One recommendation the panel made in the report is to have subsidies for corn farmers curtailed. "There doesn't seem to be coordination between agricultural subsidies and public health policy for diet and nutrition," Kripke said.
"Subsidies for corn make corn syrup very cheap and it's not nutritionally what you want in all of your foods," Kripke said. "It might make more sense to make agricultural subsidies for fruits and vegetables that would be more healthy for the population."
Although the White House doesn't usually comment on the report, Kripke hopes that it will spur government officials to develop programs that help people make necessary lifestyle changes.
One expert agreed that societal changes are to blame for ever-heavier Americans.
"Obesity has been brought about by changes in our environment, not by any increase in the number of susceptible people," said Eugenia Calle, director of Analytic Epidemiology at the American Cancer Society.
Calle argues that while once fats and sugars were relatively expensive, they are now cheap. "It used to be impossible to buy a great deal of calories for $2.99, and now it is possible to buy one day's allotment of calories for less than $10," she said. "So now calorie-dense foods are cheap."
In contrast, fruits and vegetables are more expensive than they used to be, Calle said. "So, it becomes economically more difficult to make good food choices, especially if you don't have a lot of income," she said. In addition, people have become more sedentary, she added.
"The best idea in the report is implementing a culture of wellness in the U.S., so that the social and cultural norm is one of health," Calle said.
For more information on cancer and lifestyle, visit the American Cancer Society.