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Reduce environmental risk and prevent cancer

Over half of all cancers can be prevented. How? By reducing our environmental risk.

“Well over 50% of our cancers are due to our environment – and this does not include smoking,” says Dr. Louise Parker, Cancer Care Nova Scotia’s Director of Cancer Research.

So, what is environmental risk and how do we reduce it?

“Environmental risk includes many aspects of our life and our society,” explains Dr.  Parker.  “It reflects our lifestyle, our behaviour, our culture, and our society.”

There is no one easy answer to reducing environmental risk. Success lies in adopting a long-term, multi-pronged approach and involving and engaging government, business, community and individuals who live and work in those communities.

Although we think of the environment  as the air, water and forests that surround us, in understanding – and preventing – cancer the definition is menvironmentuch broader.

Obesity, for example, is quickly becoming a worldwide epidemic.  On one level, this is an individual issue, notes Dr. Parker, but the causes of the problem – and its solutions – go well beyond any one person.  “We live in a society that encourages us to eat fast food and large portions.  We’re also less physically active in our jobs; we rely on cars get around, and we love TV.”

The implications of these systemic risk factors are significant.  “We need to ensure we understand the problems we are facing to determine the best way to deal with them.”

We can learn much about what to do in the future by looking to the past.  Smoking, for example, is an issue around which society has made a cultural shift. At one time, widely accepted, smoking is now significantly restricted.  Taxes have been put in place to discourage smoking and legislation prohibits this in public places.  “This is a good example of how to address an environmental issue effectively and on many levels,” says Dr. Parker.

“Food retailers, for example, could be encouraged to produce healthier, and smaller-size, meal options. Consumers could demand such options, and government could discourage eating unhealthy foods by taxing them.

Individuals can also take steps to reduce their risk.  “Start by taking the stairs and eating only half a large muffin,” says Dr. Parker.  “Better yet, have a muffin buddy who’ll eat the other half for you!.  There’s no reason we shouldn’t have fun while we’re helping to promote good health and prevent cancer.”

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