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Cancer Health Center

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Cancer Prevention: What Works?

Soy, fish oil, and alcohol are still debated, but some things are certain: Stop smoking, lose weight, and exercise.

What's Fact? What's Not? continued...

In particular, says Stein, there is evidence that by increasing your consumption of fruits and vegetables, you may be able to lower your risk of cancers of the bladder, esophagus, pancreas, lung, and oral cavity.

Therese Bevers, MD, medical director of clinical cancer prevention at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, concurs that a healthy diet is important and may reduce the risk of developing cancer. But, she adds, doctors are awaiting more definitive data on the optimal diet for cancer prevention. "Some studies have shown that reducing your dietary fats can lower your risk of breast cancer, but others have shown no such benefit," she says.

Weighing the Evidence

There is plenty of hype in many areas of cancer prevention, even when the scientific evidence isn't persuasive. For example:

  • The joy of soy? Women in Asia have lower rates of breast cancer than their counterparts in the Western world -- and they also have a much higher intake of soy. That kind of news has driven some women to take soy to extremes.

    "There are people eating soy milk at breakfast, soy burgers at lunch, and tofu at dinner, and snacking on soy nuts throughout the day because they think that soy is going to save their lives," says Polk. "But we just don't have long-term studies to support the intake of these huge amounts of soy. If you enjoy partaking in soy, go ahead, but when it comes to eating it in very large amounts, we really don't know enough to say if it is definitely helpful or harmful."

  • Looking to the sea. Fish has been touted as a weapon in cancer prevention, but many experts aren't yet convinced that the oils in fish -- called omega-3 fatty acids -- have really turned the tide in human studies. Nevertheless, some animal research suggests that omega-3s may reduce cancer risk. If you want to give fish a try, concentrate on the fatty fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, and sardines.

  • Drinking to Your Health? Although you have probably heard that a daily glass or two of wine or other alcoholic beverages may improve your heart health, don't count on that bottle of Bordeaux for cancer prevention. In fact, the opposite may be true.

    "As little as one drink per day (one beer, one glass of wine, or one shot of liquor) increases the risk of breast and colon cancer," says Stein. "It also increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, larynx, esophagus, and liver."

    So if you do enjoy an alcoholic drink now and then, don't overdo it. "We usually advise limiting your consumption to one alcoholic beverage or less per day on average," says Bevers.

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