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Cancer Report: Hoosiers Smoke, Lack Good Nutrition and Exercise

IU Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center

Building exterior IU Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center

Overall, Hoosiers continue to smoke, they don’t eat healthy, and they don’t exercise enough — all factors that lead to increased cancer rates as well as other diseases, according to “Cancer Disparities in Indiana: An Epidemiologic Profile.”

Two Indiana University researchers — G. Marie Swanson, Ph.D., M.P.H., and Tess Weathers, M.P.H. — and Victoria Rakowski, R.N., B.S., chief staff officer for mission at the American Cancer Society,  Great Lakes Division, used data from state and federal databases to develop the report.

“A priority of the American Cancer Society is to reduce barriers and increase access to quality care for all of our constituents,” Rakowski said. “This report will help us to identify where we best need to spend resources on achieving the goal to celebrate more birthdays by helping our citizens in Indiana get well and stay well.”

The researchers found that adult Hoosiers, ages 18 and above, continue to light up cigarettes, ranking Indiana fifth in the number of cigarette smokers. As a result, Hoosiers are diagnosed with lung cancer at considerably higher rates than the national average.

In fact, lung cancer strikes African American women in Indiana 26 percent more than the national average. For white men in Indiana, the incidence rate is 20 percent higher than the national average.   

“We know enough about the dangers of cigarette smoking that we could get rid of 90 percent of lung cancers if people did not smoke,” said Dr. Swanson, a researcher at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center and a board member of the Great Lakes Division of the American Cancer Society.

Cigarette smoking and tobacco use also contribute to esophageal, head and neck, colon and pancreatic cancers, among others.

Quitting smoking or never smoking are the best defense against developing lung and related cancers.


Good nutrition not only helps to ward off cancer but other diseases as well. Dr. Swanson offered these healthy tips:

  • Avoid refined sugars
  • Eat a low-fat diet
  • Consume more fish and chicken
  • Reduce red meat consumption
  • Eat five servings of fruits and vegetables per day


The recommended levels of physical activity for adults is 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on five days per week or 20 minutes of vigorous physical activity on three days.

In Indiana, more females, white adults, and those over age 45 fail to meet those recommended levels compared to their national counterparts. Dr. Swanson said a person doesn’t have to be an athlete to improve his or her health. A brisk walk that lasts 20 minutes to 30 minutes a day is beneficial.

“If the country followed what the data show us – no tobacco use, healthy nutrition and exercise — we could reduce cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes by at least 60 percent,” Dr. Swanson said.

Patrick Loehrer Sr., M.D., director of the IU Simon Cancer Center, said everyone can learn from the report’s findings.

“Because of research at the IU Simon Cancer Center and other research centers across the United States, we are steadily unraveling the twisted coils of DNA and discovering the molecular and environmental causes of this disease,” Loehrer said. “But everyone, not just researchers and scientists, can learn from this report. We do have some real control over our lives. We can help prevent cancer by following a few simple steps.”

“Cancer Disparities in Indiana: An Epidemiologic Profile” is available online at Click on the “publications” tab.