Preventing cancer: The life course approach


Yearly 40 years ago, President Richard M. Nixon declared war on cancer, pledging to discover a cure for this deadly disease. Unfortunately, we’re still fighting that war today. But what if part of the cure is actually prevention of cancer?

The World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research 2007 report,"Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective” used a systematic, evidence-based approach to evaluate more than 7,000 studies on all aspects of diet, physical activity, weight management and cancer risk. One startling conclusion: About one-third of cancer cases could be prevented if everyone ate a healthy diet, was physically active every day and maintained a healthy weight.

The report also says that events early in life greatly influence a person’s lifetime cancer risk.


Right off the bat, the choice of breastfeeding protects against cancer. Women who bear children and breastfeed them exclusively for six months reduce their own lifetime risk of breast cancer. And infants who are breastfed are less likely to become overweight throughout their lifetime, effectively lowering their risk over time.

The healthiest diet is mostly based on plants and emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans."By experimenting with different ways to enjoy these foods, parents are both providing important nutrients and phytochemicals (protective plant compounds) for health today and establishing habits that will help establish a long-term lifestyle with healthy eating choices,” explains Karen Collins, a registered dietitian and nutrition advisor to the American Institute for Cancer Research. She recommends emphasizing a variety of different choices in all these foods."Find ways to make them taste great.”

Are there any absolute dietary"no-no’s”? We don’t have evidence linking occasional consumption of any food with cancer risk, so there’s no need to make any food"forbidden” in hopes of protecting a child from cancer. However, keep sugary drinks and snacks, high-fat empty-calorie snack foods and processed meats (such as pepperoni, bacon and hot dogs) to occasional use only. While there’s no need to completely give up refined grains, such as white bread and white rice, it’s best to shift over to whole grains as the norm, rather than the exception.

Physical activity

Collins suggests we help our children discover a variety of ways they enjoy being physically active and to develop the habit of making physical activity part of everyday life. She explains that physical activity acts both directly (affecting levels of various hormones related to cancer risk and reducing chronic inflammation) and indirectly (through its role in maintaining a healthy weight) to significantly lower the risk of several cancers common among adults."One of the best ways to increase the chances that someone will be a physically active adult seems to be developing the habit when young. Emphasize the enjoyment of the activity; no need to be‘good enough’ or prove anything.”

Although there are many pieces in the cancer-risk puzzle still undiscovered, parents play a critical role of influence. Think about it: It’s far easier to eat well and be active if that is all you’ve ever known. While it’s never too late to begin a healthy lifestyle, why not start your children out on the right path today?


The American Institute for Cancer Research has downloadable brochures on physical activity, healthy food choices when eating out, cooking on the run and healthful recipes. Sign up

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Pumpkin Soup

Ingredients• 2 tsp. olive oil• 1/2 cup chopped onion• 2 celery stalks, chopped• 2 garlic cloves, minced• 1 tsp. peeled, minced fresh ginger• 2 tsp. sugar• 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg• Pinch of cinnamon• Salt and ground black pepper, to taste• 1 can (14.5 ounces) pumpkin• 1 potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes• 4 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth• 1/4 cup nonfat sour cream•2 green onions, chopped

In large stock pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, celery, garlic, ginger and sugar and cook four minutes, until tender.

Add nutmeg and cinnamon. Season with salt and pepper, to taste; stir to coat. Add pumpkin, potato and broth. Bring to boil.

Reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover and simmer 20 minutes, until pumpkin and potato are tender. Ladle soup into bowls and top each serving with sour cream and green onions.

Nutritional Information: Makes six servings. Per serving: 89 calories, 2 g total fat (<1 g saturated fat), 16 g carbohydrates, 4 g protein, 2 g dietary fiber, 409 mg sodium. Recipe from American Institute for Cancer Research Recipe Corner

Christine M. Palumbo is a registered dietitian from west suburban Naperville. If you have any column suggestions, send them to her at Chris@Christine

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