While many causes of cancer are well known and documented, many others remain a mystery. Clearly, every cancer has a cause, and as time passes, we are able to answer more of these questions. There are, however, things we can do every day to decrease our risk of developing cancer.

As previously discussed, tobacco products are responsible for thousands of deaths each year from both cancer and cardiopulmonary disease. It has been estimated that 40-50% of all premature deaths in this country are due to tobacco products. The link between lung cancer and smoking, along with education of the population, has led to a decline in the number of men smoking over the past decade, down from 21% 16% now.

Tobacco use has also been linked to an increased risk of bladder and kidney cancer. The addition of alcohol to tobacco smoke increases the risk of cancer of the mouth and esophagus. In non-smokers, alcohol alone can lead to an increased risk of cancer of the esophagus, mainly in heavy drinkers of hard liquor.

Diet is also related to cancer risk. In the western world, diets are often high in fat, approaching 40% of our caloric intake. A high-fat diet does increase the risk of colon, breast, prostate, ovarian, uterine and pancreatic cancers. This effect can be somewhat countered by a diet high in vegetables and fruits due to their antioxidant properties.

A diet high in bran fiber can also decrease the risk of colon cancer. Diets high in calcium and magnesium, which can be obtained from low-fat dairy products, vegetables and some fish, have also been associated with a lower risk of colon cancer.

Salted, pickled and smoked foods have also be linked to the development of stomach and esophageal cancers secondary to high levels of nitrites in these foods. This can be offset by consuming anti-oxidants such as Vitamin C and Vitamin E.

Sunlight exposure, especially in the southern part of this country, leads to an increased risk of skin cancer. Individuals with fair complexions are more sensitive to the effects of sunlight exposure. Everyone should use caution in the sun and wear sunscreen.

Often overlooked is the need for adults to consume 1.0 to 1.5 liters of fluids a day. This assists in the dilution and removal of waste products from our bodies. It also minimizes the time these waste products are in contact with our kidneys, bladder and colon.

Black and green teas often contain antioxidants and in studies have shown a benefit in reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease.

In summary, not all cancers can be prevented. By following these 10 steps, one can decrease the risk of disease:

1. Avoid tobacco products of all forms.

2. Consume alcoholic beverages in moderation or abstain completely.

3. Lower your total fat intake to 20% of your calories. Also, use monounsaturated oils and eat fish several times a week.

4. Increase your intake of cereal bran products.

5. Eat more vegetables and fruits which are a good sources of vitamins, antioxidants and fiber.

6. Increase the intake of calcium and magnesium by using low-fat or skim dairy products.

7. Avoid salted, pickled or smoked food preparations.

8. Decrease your intake of fried or broiled foods.

9. Limit your exposure to sunlight and use sunscreen products as needed.

10. Drink 1 to 1.5 liters of water or fluids a day. Remember, many teas contain antioxidants.

Dr. C. Joseph Bennett Jr. is a board-certified radiation oncologist. If you have any suggestions for topics, or have any questions, contact him at 522 N. Lecanto Highway, Lecanto, FL 34461, or email cjbennett@rboi.com.

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