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Take the 'Great American Health Check': Beat Cancer

5 minutes on the American Cancer Society Web site can help you cut your cancer risk

In this column, Roberta Cahill of the American Cancer Society talks about ways to reduce your 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.

Charlotte Hofer: Roberta, is everyone at risk for cancer?

Roberta Cahill: Yes. Everyone is at some risk for cancer. Some risks, like simply getting older or having a family history of certain forms of cancer, are beyond your control. But other risks occur because of lifestyle choices you make - about tobacco use, nutrition and physical activity, and whether or not you get the screenings you need.

Hofer: So people really have the power to lower their odds of getting cancer?

Cahill: They absolutely can have an impact on their cancer risk, with a few lifestyle choices. And that's what the American Cancer Society's Great American Health Challenge is all about - a campaign to educate Americans about lowering their cancer risk. It's a yearlong program that encourages people to take action to prevent cancer or to detect it at an early stage, when it's most treatable. There are four parts to the yearlong health challenge - check, move, nourish and quit.

Hofer: What's the Great American Health Check?

Cahill: It's a way for you to find out your cancer risk, and the screenings you need and when to get them. Health Check is an interactive quiz on our website that will help you look at factors like your lifestyle habits and family history to see what cancer screenings you need, and when you should start those screenings, based on your cancer risk. Just go to www.cancer.org/healthcheck, fill out a few questions, and you'll get a customized action plan.

Hofer: So in about 5 minutes, I get a personal health action plan - tailored to me?

Cahill: That's right. You just answer a few questions online about your lifestyle and family history of cancer - it's quick, easy and confidential - and within about 5 minutes, you've got a personalized action plan customized just for you. It will give you information on the screenings you need, and then you can share the action plan with your doctor.

Hofer: Just how important is this 5-minute health quiz in preventing cancer?

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Cahill: Extremely important, because you'll learn what tests are right for you. And early detection testing can save your life by finding cancer at the earliest, most treatable stage - or preventing it altogether. Here's a startling fact - cancers that can be prevented or detected earlier by screening account for about one-half of all new cancer cases. The Great American Health Check is an easy, confidential way to learn which tests are right for you.

Hofer: What else can I get on the Health Check web page?

Cahill: You can learn more about the American Cancer Society's screening guidelines and cancer risk factors through the Great American Health Check. When you get your Health Check personal action plan listing the suggested screenings for you, you can discuss them with your health care provider.

Hofer: Can I take the quiz for a loved one to assess their cancer risk?

Cahill: Sure. You can enter information about someone else and find out their cancer risk, and then encourage them to share that information with their doctor.

Hofer: You mentioned other components of the Great American Health Challenge - can you describe those?

Cahill: We are challenging Americans everywhere to do something great for their health this year, starting with taking the Health Check now in January. In May, we challenge people to get active - by trying to get at least 30 minutes of exercise 5 or more days a week. In August, we offer the Great American Eat Right Challenge - providing advice about healthy eating habits and regular exercise. And in November - the Great American Smokeout inspires smokers to kick the habit.

Hofer: So the secrets to lowering your cancer risk are to eat right, get moving, stop smoking and get the screenings you need?

Cahill: That's it. It's estimated that 50 percent of cancer deaths in the U.S. could be prevented through healthy lifestyle habits, according to the American Cancer Society. Reducing cancer deaths by 50 percent would save about 280,000 lives every year in the United States.

It's a great year-round resolution - to commit to making healthier choices this year by being active, eating right and quitting tobacco. Bottom line, you have the power to control your cancer risk, and the American Cancer Society can help. We're at www.cancer.org or 1 (800) 227-2345.

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 anytime, call (800) 227-2345 or visit www.cancer.org. For information about this article, please contact Charlotte Hofer, American Cancer Society at charlotte.hofer@cancer.org.