The voices on the phone line are amazingly chipper, given the subject matter. "You know, Linda, it's enough to drive you nuts. Every day on the news they either say something else is no good for you or there's some bunny food we just have to eat." "Oh Bill, you can still eat some of those things you love, just not as often. Listen, more and more medical evidence shows that we really are what we eat." Pause. "If that's the case, slap some ketchup on me and call me Mr. Cheeseburger." The chatty conversations are part of a pilot telephone service to provide Anne Arundel County residents with information about cancer -- its causes, detection, and what resources are available locally to those combating it. Spurred by high cancer rates in Anne Arundel County, the National Cancer Institute has joined with an Annapolis company, TeleSonic, to develop a free 24-hour phone-fax information and referral service. By calling (410) 224-0540, county residents can reach some 20 messages about cancers they are statistically in danger of contracting. The phone line will be available through March 31. TeleSonic has applied for a second federal grant, through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to keep the service available beyond March. The taped messages also include local resources and critical information on prevention and early detection. For example, the tape "Preventing Cancer Through a Healthy Diet" provides information through the couple's dialogue. Says Bill: "My friend Jeff just learned he has colon cancer. He eats worse than I do. I wonder if his diet had something to do with it?" "Well, Bill, diets high in fat have been linked to colon and rectal cancer." Although the blurbs sounds like radio commercials, they provide a great deal of information. By the end of the Healthy Diet conversation, a listener has picked up useful facts such as the following: * One-third of all cancer deaths may be related to what we eat. * You can get fiber from vegetables, beans, fruit and fruit juices, whole grain breads and cereals * Cooking hints include broiling or roasting meats or fish, drinking skim milk, avoiding too much sugar and using low-fat cheeses such as mozzarella. Certain messages allow the caller to request an immediate supplementary fax. The phone-line messages were reviewed by a regional panel of health and medical advisers to ensure accuracy. "The main objective of the health line is to provide outreach to the county's high risk population," said TeleSonic President Leonard A. Blackshear. High-risk residents include those who don't have a doctor, those who are afraid or ignorant of cancer and people who "for any number of reasons get inadequate health care," he added. The county's mortality rate is higher than that of the United States as a whole, according to a 1992 study conducted by the Johns Hopkins University Health Alliance. About 700 county deaths are attributed to cancer every year. Nationwide, the rate of cancer deaths per 100,000 people is 171. That compares with 192.9 for Maryland and 205.4 for Anne Arundel County. After calling the number, residents can take a short, confidential personal profile quiz. The information is instantly analyzed and an automated operator recommends topic numbers which would be helpful to the caller. Information about local mammography, cervical cancer screening, smoking cessation workshops, support groups and education programs is also featured on the Cancer Health Line. Hearing- and speech-impaired callers can use two messages on the health line designed for use with telephone devices for the deaf.