Taking the steps to get rid of cancer, heart disease

Causing 631,636 deaths in 2006, heart disease is still the number one killer in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This number, while staggering, comes as no surprise to most Americans, as we are painfully aware of the rise in obesity and all the health issues that come with it.

But as weight loss and cardiovascular health promotion take center stage, another killer may be gunning for heart disease’s number one spot: cancer.

According to the National Vital Statistics Report for 2007, deaths caused by heart disease have exhibited a downward trend since 1950.

This trend may be especially relevant here in Arizona, where the gap between cancer and heart disease-related deaths has narrowed from an 81 percent difference in 1980 to a .1 percent difference in 2008. This isn’t to say that cancer rates are on the rise, as they are in fact decreasing, but at a much slower rate than rates of heart disease.

Nevertheless, cancer has been the number one cause of death in Arizona for the past ten years for individuals ages 0 to 84, according the Arizona Department of Health Services.

With cancer at the forefront in Arizona, it is important that Arizonans, and Americans in general, take a second look at early prevention strategies.

The best strategy is to adopt lifestyle methods that take on both heart disease and cancer, namely healthy diet and exercise. But the first hurdle to overcome is sorting through fact and fiction.

For example, according to a study recently published by the Tisch Cancer Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, a diet supplemented with fruits and veggies might not be as strong of a cancer fighter as previously believed.

Such findings might encourage someone who is already unenthusiastic about brussels sprouts to ditch them altogether, but such a bold statement merits a second look.

First of all, the study found that an additional two servings of fruits and vegetables per day contributes to a 3 percent decrease in cancer risk, which is said to be “very weak.”

I don’t know about you, but I’ll take a 3 percent decrease in my cancer risk.

Furthermore, this study comes in conflict with others like it, which cite 20 to 30 percent decreases.

But whether it’s a 3 or a 99 percent decrease, it is no doubt that maintaining a healthy diet rich in these kinds of foods is paramount to preventing disease.

Of course, these are the no-brainer strategies of maintaining a healthy weight and a nonsmoking lifestyle.

But what about alcohol?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drinking 50 grams of alcohol daily can double or triple someone’s risk for mouth, throat or voice box cancers and similar links have been found between alcohol and breast, liver and colon cancers.

Another overlooked strategy is sun protection. With skin cancer being the most common form of cancer in the United States, and with Arizona being Arizona, SPF is definitely in order.

Bottom line? Be a skeptical consumer. And when it comes to heart disease and cancer prevention, aim to kill two birds with one stone.

Kristen is looking for a really big stone. Reach her at kckelle2@asu.edu


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