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Malamalama Aga o le Kanesa

Research shows that certain risk factors increase the chance that a person will develop cancer. The most common risk factors for cancer are:

Growing older



Ionizing radiation


Certain chemicals and other substances

Some viruses and bacteria

Certain hormones

Family history of cancer

Poor diet, lack of physical activity, or being overweight

Over time, several factors may act together to cause normal cells to become cancerous. When thinking about your risk of getting cancer, keep in mind that:

Not everything causes cancer.

Cancer is not caused by an injury, such as a bump or bruise.

Cancer is not contagious. Although being infected with certain viruses or bacteria may increase the risk of some types of cancer, no one can “catch” cancer from another person.

Having one or more risk factors does not mean that you will get cancer.

There are some factors, like age and family history, which you cannot avoid or change.  But, you can avoid smoking, secondhand smoke, alcohol, viruses and bacteria, dangerous chemicals, and prolonged exposure to sunlight without proper sunscreen.  To combat the risks of age, family history, and hormones you can perform the recommended cancer screening as part of your annual physical exam. 

You can also improve your diet, amount of physical activity, and weight.  I heard a friend say, “Samoans are not exercise people, we’re just not!”  She may be right, tae bo, zumba and step aerobics are not traditional Samoan activities.  However, climbing the steep mountainside to tend the plantation, walking to a destination, fishing and swimming, are customary.  Modern innovations have altered the Samoan lifestyle in such a way that physical activity is no longer a necessity in daily life.  You can ride a bus instead of walk to buy food from the store instead of farming it yourself!    

According to the Dept. of Health’s statistics between 1998 and 2001, cancer was the second leading cause of death in American Samoa.  During that same period, of the 152 total recorded cancer deaths, 29% were attributed to lung cancer, 18% to liver cancer, 17% to prostate cancer, and 15% to stomach cancer.

Recorded cancer cases by site in the same period were primarily linked to breast and uterine cancers, lung, prostate and cervical cancers respectively.

How can you change your eating habits to reduce your risks for theses cancers?

According to the American Cancer Society, most of these cancers are linked to diets high in fat and red meat.  Current research has not provided any conclusive evidence of this correlation however the obesity, hypertension, and diabetes linked to a high fat diet are enough reason to avoid a high-fat diet.  These chronic conditions also weaken the body and increase the risk for abnormal cell growth.

Certain vegetables have been proven to strengthen the immune system, thereby reducing risk of infection.  Green vegetables like broccoli, green leaf lettuce (as opposed to iceberg lettuce), green beans and cucumbers provide iron and calcium. Combining beans and whole grains with veggies, and washing everything down with water – not juice or soda – is a means of reducing risk as well.  Meat is not a necessity – you can eat a sufficient amount of protein from tofu, beans, whole grains.  The stronger your body is, the less risk you have of developing cancer. 

Beat Cancer by eating right and being active. 

If you would like more information on the research referenced in this article, or on nutritional guidelines and cancer, please contact the American Samoa Community Cancer Network, Department of Health, and the LBJTMC Nutrition Department.