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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, May 26, 2024


Jan 7, 2002 – "Ask the CIS," a locally produced Cancer Information Service health column, is featuring questions and answers this time about the relationship of smoking, obesity and exposure to asbestos to the risk of developing cancer.
Which type of cancer kills the most women?
You may be surprised to learn that lung cancer kills more women in the United States than breast cancer or any other type of cancer. In 2001, an estimated 67,300 women died from lung cancer, compared with 40,200 from breast cancer. Lung cancer is the top cause of all cancer deaths for both women and men.
Smoking is the most common cause of lung cancer and has been linked to many other types of cancer, including cancers of the esophagus, bladder, larynx, kidney, pancreas and cervix. Smoking also can increase the risk for other health problems, such as chronic lung disease and heart disease. Smoking during pregnancy can result in problems such as premature delivery and low birth weight of the baby.
Tobacco use also presents a health risk for nonsmokers who are exposed to smoke regularly. Second-hand smoke is not as concentrated as the smoke that smokers inhale, but research has shown that it does carry significant health risks.
Quitting tobacco is the most important thing people can do to reduce their risk of developing many cancers and other diseases. Ten years after quitting, an ex-smoker's risk of dying from lung cancer is 30 to 50 percent lower than the risk for current smokers. After 10 to 15 years, an ex-smoker's risk is almost the same as that of a person who has never smoked.
The Cancer Information Service is committed to helping smokers kick the habit. Information specialists can offer personalized suggestions and support to smokers who call 1-800-4-CANCER toll-free and select option No. 3 for this assistance. The CIS also provides free materials on the health effects of smoking and how to quit.
Can obesity cause cancer?
Researchers are studying whether obesity causes an increased risk for cancer. Although some studies show a link between obesity and cancer and other studies do not, obesity does appear to be a risk factor for some types of cancer. These include cancers of the breast, colon, prostate, endometrium (lining of the uterus), cervix, ovary, kidney and gallbladder. Studies also have linked obesity to an increased risk for cancers of the liver, pancreas, rectum and esophagus.
Researchers also have found a consistent link between obesity and many other diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke.
Obesity is not the same thing as being overweight. People who are overweight have too much body weight for their height and bone structure. This weight can come from fat, muscle, bone and/or water retention. People who are obese have an abnormally high, unhealthy proportion of body fat.
From 1960 to 1994, the incidence of obesity among American adults increased from 13.4 percent to 22.3 percent. Because of this dramatic rise, even a small increase in cancer risk due to obesity is cause for concern.
More research is needed to better understand how obesity may contribute to the development of cancer. Meanwhile, experts recommend that people who are overweight or obese lose weight through regular exercise and changes in diet.
For more information and free publications about a healthful diet, call the Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER.
Does exposure to asbestos cause cancer? Who is at risk?
Working with asbestos is the major risk factor for a rare form of cancer called mesothelioma. In this disease, cancerous cells are found in the mesothelium, a protective sac that covers most of the body's internal organs.
About 2,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in the United States each year. The disease occurs most often in older men, but it can appear in anyone. Although the disease has appeared in some people without any known exposure to asbestos, 70 to 80 percent of people with mesothelioma have worked with asbestos.
Asbestos exposure also increases the risk for lung cancer, cancers of the larynx and kidney, and asbestosis (a persistent non-cancerous lung disease).
Asbestos is the name of a group of minerals that can be separated into thin threads and woven. Asbestos has been used widely in many industrial products, including cement, brake linings, roof shingles, flooring products, textiles and insulation.
Today, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration sets limits for acceptable levels of asbestos exposure in the workplace. People who work with asbestos are required to wear protective gear to lower their risk of exposure.
There is some evidence that family members and others living with asbestos workers have an increased risk of developing asbestos-related diseases. This risk may be the result of exposure to asbestos dust brought home on the worker's clothing and hair. For this reason, asbestos workers usually are required to shower and change clothing before leaving the workplace.
For more information on mesothelioma and treatment options, including clinical trials (research studies with people), call the Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) or visit the CIS web site.
The CIS toll-free phone line hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The service is free, and all calls are confidential.
Locally, organizations interested in cancer awareness and education outreach are asked to call Carthy Thomas, Partnership Program coordinator, at 774-9000, ext. 4707.

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