As reported by the New Haven Register, January 23, 2005.

Doctors Believe People Can Help Themselves Prevent Cancer

By Abram Katz

Most people would readily agree to painless measures that could reduce their chance of cancer by 40 percent.

Asking Americans to stop smoking cigarettes, however, has little effect on tobacco sales.

And telling them to lose weight is equally ineffective.

What’s happening here is an education disconnect that’s costing hundreds of thousands of lives a year, said Dr. Carolyn D. Runowicz, new director of the Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington.

"I don’t think people really understand the numbers," Runowicz said.

This is one reason why Runowicz and Dr, Sheldon H. Cherry wrote "The Answer to Cancer" (Rodale, $24.95), a book that explains the emerging field of cancer prevention.

In its simplest form, preventing cancer means stop smoking cigarettes.

"Cigarettes are the single biggest cause of cancer in the United States," she said.

About 46 million Americans smoke, leading to 440,000 cancer deaths annually, Runowicz said.

Many people may not realize that in addition to triggering most lung cancers, cigarettes also contribute to cancer of the bladder, pancreas, head, neck and cervix, she said.

"People need to be educated on why they need to stop smoking," she said.

Smoking cessation could top the prevention agenda.

Cigarette smoking accounts for 28 percent of cancer deaths in the United States annually and 13 percent of all cancers diagnosed, she said.

UConn is researching new methods to help smokers quit, Runowicz said.

"There won’t be a single drug. We can make the environment less conducive to smoking. Also we can alter behaviors," she said.

The nicotine in cigarettes is addictive, and the habit itself is psychologically addictive, she said.

Genetics may play a role in who starts smoking, who gets hooked and who can stop, she said.

"Some people may have an ‘addiction gene’ or they might metabolize the chemicals in the smoke differently," Runowicz said.

Several other high-incidence cancers can either be curtailed or caught early and treated effectively, she said.

A national epidemic of obesity and inactivity is linked to breast, colon, kidney and endometrial cancers, Runowicz said.

Fat cells can metabolize existing androsterone into the hormone estrogen, which is known to stimulate certain tumors of the breast and ovaries.

Sedentary behavior may alter the bacterial fauna that normally live in the gut and affect gastric acid production, she said.

At any rate, breast cancer can be detected in its early stages by mammography, and most colon cancer could be stopped with regular colonoscopy exams, she said.

Proper diet is also important, Runowicz said.

Most people should consume five to six servings a day of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Lung cancer patients often have low levels of the plant compound beta-carotene. This probably reflects an all around poor diet, she said.

Major studies in the late 1990s surprised researchers by showing that smokers who took beta-carotene supplements were more likely to develop lung cancer.

Instead, have a glass of orange juice or a piece of cantaloupe at breakfast, a banana with lunch and apple juice with dinner.

And, of course, stop smoking.

While the anti-oxidant properties of phytochemicals probably help protect cells from damage, you should not overeat, she said.

Too many calories, either from apples or doughnuts, will produce weight gain.

"Don’t go on a diet. Adopt a healthy lifestyle that you can live with," she said. If you can cut 200 to 500 calories a day through exercise, then you will gradually lose weight, slowly but steadily.

Figure out a way to work exercise into your daily routine. Studies show that physical activity also improves the odds of avoiding certain cancers, she said.

Practice safe sex by using condoms and spermicide and a woman’s birth control method, at least until you are in a monogamous relationship.

This will help curb the spread of human papilloma virus, which is spread by sexual contact and increases the risk of cervical cancer.

It’s also important to protect skin from solar ultraviolet radiation. So use a sunscreen regularly during the summer and if you plan to ski on a sunny mountain.

"At least 30 to 40 percent of cancers are preventable. The optimistic tone of the book is justified by studies done since 1997," she said.

"Prevention is an emerging specialty. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," Runowicz said.