The authors of the American Cancer Society's (ACS) most recent report on annual cancer statistics have some bad news. Cancer is now responsible for the greatest number of deaths for Americans age 85 and under. That's up from its position as the number-one killer of Americans 65 and under. But this health headline is not quite as ominous as it sounds. Partly responsible for cancer's new position in the rankings is the fact that deaths from heart disease, which is still the nation's overall biggest killer, have been steadily falling since the 1975. Deaths from cancer are a mixed bag of sorts. Cancer is not really one disease but many, with deaths from some types falling but others increasing.

The good news is that many cancer experts project that 60-70 percent of cancer deaths could be prevented by lifestyle changes. One-third of those cancer deaths could be related to diet alone. Take a look at some of the lifestyle changes that can lower your risk of cancer.

  • Don't smoke. Smoking remains the number one cause of preventable death in the United States, contributing to numerous cancers, heart disease, and stroke. Despite a decline in lung-cancer deaths for men, it remains the number-one cause of cancer death for both women and men. This is obviously one habit well worth quitting.
  • Eat a "plant-based" diet. Many studies strongly suggest that eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can greatly cut your chances of getting a variety of cancers, including colon cancer-the number-three biggest cancer killer for Americans. Be sure to include two to three servings a week of vegetables from the "cruciferous" (or cabbage) family such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, which seem to be particularly potent cancer fighters. See the box below for quick and easy ways to increase your servings of fruits and vegetables. 
  • Increase physical activity. Physical activity may help you reduce your risk of breast and colon cancer. 
  • Lose weight. The authors of the ACS report speculate that one reason for the increase in some cancer deaths could be due to the obesity epidemic. 
  • Limit alcohol. While moderate alcohol intake is actually good for heart health, alcohol and cancer don't mix. Moderation is still the key and is considered to be safe but it won't protect you from cancer the way it can from heart disease. For women who have actually had breast cancer, less is definitely best. Moderation for women is no more than one drink per day on average-men get two!

Once you've mastered these lifestyle changes, you may want to add a few more, such as eating more soy foods, yogurt, fish, and drinking green tea. Some research shows that these foods may also protect against certain cancers. Trying new foods can add an interesting new dimension to your food choices. So have fun and approach new foods with a sense of adventure.

Here are some suggestions for easy ways to increase your servings of fruits and vegetables every day:

  • Drink 100-percent fruit juice at breakfast
  • Choose juice instead of sodas from drink machines
  • Add fruit to cereal
  • Top pancakes with fruit
  • Eat fruit for a snack or dessert
  • Add lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts to sandwiches
  • Microwave frozen vegetables for
  • Frozen, canned, and dried foods count!
  • Get salads in the bag or off the salad bar
  • Add vegetables to casseroles, pasta, pizzas
  • Snack on dried fruit

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