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Resolve to reduce cancer risk

In this column, Roberta Cahill of the American Cancer Society talks to Charlotte Hofer about ways to reduce cancer risk through the Great American Health Check. Cahill is Yankton Sioux and lives in Pierre, S.D. Her work focuses on cancer education to diverse populations.

CH: Getting healthy is a favorite New Year’s resolution – people want to eat healthier, exercise more, quit smoking. How can the American Cancer Society help?

RC: The American Cancer Society’s Great American Health Check can help people keep resolutions – and enjoy a healthier lifestyle – with personalized online tools to help set health goals and track progress. You can “check” your health online – actually find out your individual risk for cancer based on your lifestyle and family history, and the screenings you need. Regular screenings are important because they can lead to early detection of cancer, when it’s most treatable. At least half of all new cancer cases can be prevented or detected earlier by screening.

CH: How does the health check work?

RC: It’s an interactive tool that allows you to enter information - height, weight, dietary habits, exercise levels, alcohol and tobacco use. It gives a personal assessment of individual cancer risk and tips on how to stay healthy and cancer-free. It’s easy, fast, confidential, and best of all, free.

CH: Can you take the quiz for someone else – like your husband or your mom – to find out their cancer risk?

RC: Sure. You can take the quiz for a loved one to find out their cancer risk and the screenings they should be getting.

CH: What are the statistics on developing cancer?

RC: One in two men and one in three women will develop cancer at some point in their lives. The good news is there are steps we can take to make ourselves healthier and less susceptible to cancer. And it’s so quick – five minutes online is all it takes to do the health check, and it can save your life. Find the health check at

CH: What are some general tips that can keep a person healthy and cancer-free?

RC: Quitting smoking is the best thing you can do. Smoking is linked to 10 different cancers, and accounts for 30 percent of all cancer deaths. Quitting will enable you to live a better and longer life and avoid life-threatening diseases like lung cancer and heart problems. It’s also important to maintain a healthy weight and eat right, cut alcohol intake, exercise and get cancer screenings.

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All of these things will reduce cancer risk and make you healthier. Lifestyle factors – such as obesity, poor nutrition, smoking and lack of physical activity have a significant impact on chances of being diagnosed with cancer. Half of all cancer deaths are related to lifestyle choices – including tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and being overweight or obese.

CH: How do I know what cancer screenings I should be getting?

RC: The kind and amount of cancer screenings for each person depends on age, gender, physical health and family history. That’s why the health check is important – it’s customized.

Cancer affects different populations differently. For example, American Indians have a higher death rate from kidney cancer than any other racial or ethnic population. Cancer also affects individuals within a population differently – based on factors such as lifestyle and family history.

The Web site even creates online reminders to notify you when you’re due for various check-ups. Though, you should consult with your doctor on cancer screenings.

CH: What are some things I can do to get a healthy start to my new year?

RC: Men who drink two or more alcoholic drinks a day and women who drink one or more are at an increased risk for developing cancer, so reducing alcohol intake is important. It also helps to eat healthier. The American Cancer Society recommends limiting high-fat foods like dairy products and red meats to two or three servings a day; try trading beef, pork and lamb for meats like turkey, chicken and fish. The American Cancer Society recommends eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day, three servings of whole-grain foods and eliminating high-sugar foods. You should exercise at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week, because regular physical activity substantially reduces the risk of heart disease, and decreases the risk for stroke, colon cancer, breast cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure.

CH: If you gained a few extra pounds during the holidays, will that increase your risk for cancer?

RC: The health check will calculate your Body Mass Index and determine whether you could be healthier and reduce your cancer risk by losing weight. If you are overweight or obese, as is nearly two-thirds of the population, you have a greater chance of developing cancer, as well as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol or other lipid disorders, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Maintaining a healthy weight is essential to staying cancer-free. If you follow the health check’s guidelines for exercising and eating healthier, you should be able to lose extra holiday pounds.

CH: How can I stay healthy and cancer-free for the rest of the year?

RC: The Great American Health Check is the first part of a larger initiative called the Great American Health Challenge. The American Cancer Society challenges people to stay healthy all year long in order to reduce cancer risk. As part of the Great American Health Challenge, ACS will be promoting the Great American Get Active Challenge in May, the Great American Eat Right Challenge in August and the Great American Smokeout in November and December. Participating in all of these challenges and following the suggestions shown in health check results will put you on the road to looking and feeling good and reducing cancer risk. This is the year to think differently about New Year’s resolutions – and stick with them. Do something for your health – visit or call (800) 227-2345 for more information.

Editors Note: The American Cancer Society is dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by saving lives, diminishing suffering and preventing cancer through research, education, advocacy and service. For cancer information any time, call (800)227-2345 or visit For information about this article, contact Charlotte Hofer, American Cancer Society at