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Over the years, an emerging pattern of higher risks for cancer among persons who engage (or do not engage) in selected lifestyle variables has captured the national attention. In particular, diet, sedentary lifestyle, consumption of alcohol and cigarettes, stress, and other health-related behaviors have provided fertile ground for speculation about risks. Many of the studies supporting these purported risks show associations with lifestyle risks, but they have not been shown conclusively to be a causal role in cancer development. For example, although international variability in breast cancer rates indicates that diet, especially fat intake, increases risk, a cause-and-effect relationship has not been established. Alcohol consumption, weight gain, and physical inactivity also appear to increase risk, but this same causal relationship continues to be inconclusive. Smoking has been one of the most researched areas of behavioral activity and is often cited as the major risk for lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases.
Likewise, colon and rectal cancer appears to occur more frequently among persons with a high-fat, low-fiber diet; in those who don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables; and in those who are inactive; yet we can’t say that these behaviors actually will cause cancer. Such clear-cut indicators are difficult to establish, and years of careful research will be needed to specifically pinpoint the mechanisms that act in the body to increase risk. For now, there is compelling evidence that certain are clearly associated with a greater than average risk of developing diseases. In any of these situations, apparent increases in risk provide fertile ground for behavior modification.

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