Eating healthier and exercising regularly help lower cancer risks and mortality rates

By Remekca Owens

While screenings to promote early cancer diagnosis are significant, experts at UT Southwestern Medical Center suggest that healthy nutrition and exercise have just as much, if not more, impact on lowering cancer risks and mortality rates.

Jo Ann Carson, Ph.D., R.D.

“Whether one wants to prevent cancer or prevent its return, it is wise to move toward a healthy weight. Do so by combining a plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains with regular physical activity,” said Dr. Jo Ann Carson, Professor of Clinical Nutrition at UT Southwestern.

Maintaining an energy-balanced diet is not only a good preventive measure, but also benefits patients after cancer treatment, especially in breast- and colon-cancer cases. For instance, studies have shown that post-menopausal women who followed a low-fat diet had less recurrence of breast cancer than women who ate a higher-fat diet.

Previous studies have linked obesity to higher rates of breast, colon, lung, and prostate cancers. Obesity also is associated with increased risks of kidney, gallbladder, thyroid, and pancreatic cancers, among others. Overweight people tend to have elevated levels of insulin and other hormones that promote cancer cells.

The National Institutes of Health  (NIH) recently predicted that trends in obesity, if left unchecked, will lead to about 500,000 additional cancer cases in the U.S. by 2030.

At UT Southwestern, groundbreaking work is being spearheaded by the Taskforce for Obesity Research, a collaborative effort of various medical disciplines including genetics, endocrinology, nutrition, and metabolism. The NIH awarded investigators at the Medical Center a $22 million grant in 2007 to enhance efforts to attack obesity from every angle, from studying fat cells to developing new medicines.