Race (and eat) for the cure: One third of cancer deaths preventable through diet and physical activity

Published: June 22, 2012

It turns out those charity walks, races, and bike rides for cancer might benefit the individual participating as much as the individuals who benefit from the funds raised: promoting an active and healthy lifestyle might be preventing cancer in more ways than one!

It’s common knowledge that obesity increases risk for heart attack, stroke, and diabetes, but few people are aware that extra weight increases risk for developing cancer. Some of the cancers that have been associated with obesity are breast, endometrial, pancreatic, colorectal, and prostate.

Studies have shown that nearly one-third of all cancer deaths could have been prevented by simply modifying dietary and physical activity habits.

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, an excess of nutrients may foster inflammation and insulin resistance, causing DNA damage, delayed cell death, cell migration, or cell division. These can all promote cancer initiation in our bodies. In contrast, healthy habits like routine physical activity may prevent insulin resistance, leading to a decreased risk for cancer.

The cancer process is complex and doesn’t happen overnight. The potential for our cells to remain healthy and normal depends on the availability of energy that we receive from the food that we are consuming throughout our lives. A normal cell process can spiral into a cancerous one if we are experiencing excess energy—the longer we spend our lives in energy imbalance, the greater our risk for developing cancer.

The Cancer Prevention Institute of Texas (CPRIT) has made it one of their top priorities to reduce obesity-related cancer as well as to influence more Texans to adopt evidence-based nutrition and physical activity behaviors that are shown to reduce the risk of different types of cancer. These goals and strategic actions are highlighted in the 2012 Texas Cancer Plan.

What can we do to prevent this from happening?

The solution starts with individual behaviors. Studies have shown we can lower our chances of developing cancer by modifying our diets to include more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, exercising more, and maintaining a healthy weight. In addition, participation in a marathon series such as Susan G. Komen’s Race for the Cure, The American Cancer Society’s Rock n’ Roll Marathon series, and Austin’s own LIVESTRONG Marathon not only allows us to advocate for cancer prevention and treatment for others, but engage in preventive measures ourselves!

Ahmedin Jamal, the vice president of surveillance for the American Cancer Society, told USA today in a recent article, “If we want to see continued decrease in the mortality rates for cancer, we have to promote healthy behaviors such as losing weight, being active and giving up smoking”.

One more reason to participate in those charity walks or runs for cancer!

Written by
Laura Molinar
CPRIT Intern with the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living

Images courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons user asterix611 and LIVESTRONG's Facebook page