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Survey: Many assume they can't control cancer risk

By David Martin
CNN
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There's plenty of fear about cancer, but a new American Cancer Society poll found more than a third of Americans surveyed -- 36 percent -- believe they have little or no control over reducing their risk for getting the disease.

"There's nothing I can about it. I don't think I have any control," said Stephanie Smith of Raleigh, North Carolina.

But the American Cancer Society says the way we live has an enormous effect on our odds of getting cancer. The organization estimates more than a half of all cancer deaths are related to lifestyle. (Read viewers' personal stories of cancer survival.)

"People really aren't aware that people have some control over their cancer risk," said Colleen Doyle, director of nutrition and physical activity at the American Cancer Society.

Smoking is at the top of the list of activities that increase the risk of cancer, and America's 45 million smokers are significantly raising their chances of getting a number of cancers.

An unhealthful diet and lack of exercise contribute to a third of the more than 500,000 cancer deaths every year in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. (Read Dr. Sanjay Gupta's Top 10 tips to cut your cancer risk.)

Americans also need to do a better job of getting screened for cancer, especially for colon cancer, doctors agree. Catch cancer early and the chances of surviving the dreaded disease improves dramatically.

Although most women are aware of the need for mammograms and Pap tests to screen for breast and cervical cancers, far fewer know about the need for colonoscopies for colon cancer, said Dr. Jim Hotz, a Georgia doctor who is an expert on cancer and rural health care.

Two-thirds of Americans are unaware they need to begin colonoscopies at age 50, and earlier if they have a family history of colon cancer, Dr. Hotz said.

"This is a test where there is a flat educational barrier," he said. Some 56,000 Americans die of colon cancer each year even though almost all of those deaths are preventable through colonoscopies, which can detect polyps before they become malignant.

Since 2001, Medicare has covered colonoscopies for people over age 65. Yet only 27 percent of Medicare recipients received the cancer screening in the past five years, according to statistics compiled by the Carolinas Center for Medical Excellence.

Sally Hammond of Dawson, Georgia, is thankful that she relented to pressure from her doctor and received a colonoscopy. The test detected a cancer dangerously close to spreading.

"I would not be here today if it was not for that test," she said.

Hammond received treatment and is now one of the more than 10 million cancer survivors in this country, showing that with cancer, knowledge can be a lifesaver.


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The American Cancer Society estimates more than a half of all cancer deaths are related to lifestyle.

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