Lance Armstrong visits University as part of cancer forum

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After surviving his own battle with cancer nearly 10 years ago, Lance Armstrong has continued to fight the deadly disease, helping others through leadership and charity. The seven-time Tour de France winner visited campus Monday, participating in a panel discussion at the University’s cancer center. The President’s Cancer Panel discussed how a healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of getting cancer.

Armstrong represents the public on the three-member panel, which monitors the National Cancer Program and makes recommendations to President George W. Bush and Congress on how best to treat cancer.

Bush appointed Armstrong to the panel in 2002, and reappointed him to a second term in 2005.

“The public member is usually someone who has had cancer,” said Dr. LaSalle D. Leffall Jr., panel chairman. “This time it happens to be Lance Armstrong.”

Leffall said the panel is focusing on two areas to help reduce the risk of cancer: tobacco and obesity.

“If I talked about only one thing, it would be the avoidance of tobacco in any form, smoked or smokeless,” Leffall said.

He said members also stress the importance of exercise and good nutrition to fight the growing obesity problem in the United States.

“There is increasing evidence that obesity is related to cancer,” Leffall said. Obesity has also been strongly linked to heart disease and diabetes.

Leffall said young people also need to start taking care of themselves because, “the kind of habits you form now will tend to stay with you later in life.”

University public health professor Robert Jeffery presented a report to the panel, detailing obesity problems in the country and suggesting ways to address them.

“It is clear in my mind that people in this country can’t maintain a healthy weight,” said Jeffery, who also directs the University Obesity Prevention Center.

He said 70 percent of people are overweight, and 30 percent are obese.

“On any given day, half the country is doing something to try and lose weight, and it’s not working,” Jeffery said.

He largely attributed people’s widening waistlines to poor nutrition, specifically greater consumption of fast food and high-sugar soft drinks.

Armstrong said he thinks part of the obesity problem was that food varies across communities.

“Healthy food, organic food is expensive, so it’s not accessible to the poorest communities,” he said.

Armstrong, who was diagnosed with late-stage testicular cancer when he was 25, said young adults should be aware of diseases like cancer because they’re not too young to get them.

Doug Ulman, chief mission officer of Armstrong’s foundation, said cancer is actually the “No. 1 cause of death” for people between 20 and 40 – the most uninsured population group in the country, many of whom don’t regularly go to the doctor.

“I know when I was 25 I thought I was invincible, but obviously that’s not the case,” Armstrong said. “And I’m sure it’s the same with you guys.”

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