Eat, Drink and Be M…indful of Cancer Risk
December 30, 2014Just after the feasting during the Christmas period and just before the celebrations for seeing the New Year in, which often entail much drinking, comes a reminder from Cancer Research UK that excessive food and alcohol consumption are high up on the list of preventable causes of cancer.
More than 4 in 10 cases of cancer could be prevented by changes to lifestyle, the charity says.
In the United Kingdom, this means nearly 600,000 cancer cases could have been avoided in the last 5 years if people had healthier lifestyles, it adds.
The charity is basing the statements on new calculations of data from a landmark study that was published in great detail in a supplement to the British Journal of Cancer.
“There’s now little doubt that certain lifestyle choices can have a big impact on cancer risk, with research around the world all pointing to the same key risk factors,” commented lead author Max Parkin, MD, a Cancer Research UK statistician and professor of epidemiology at Queen Mary University, London.
“Of course, everyone enjoys some extra treats during the Christmas holidays, so we don’t want to ban mince pies and wine, but it’s a good time to think about taking up some healthy habits for 2015. Leading a healthy lifestyle can’t guarantee someone won’t get cancer, but we can stack the odds in our favor by taking positive steps now that will help decrease our cancer risk in future,” he said in a statement.
Smoking Remains Leading Cause
Smoking remains by far the biggest preventable cause of cancer, accounting for more than 314,000 cases in the United Kingdom in the last 5 years, which is nearly a fifth of all cancers. “So giving up cigarettes would be the best New Year resolution smokers could make,” the charity comments.
However, the charity’s new figures suggest a further 145,000 cases of cancer (nearly half the number caused by smoking) could have been prevented if people had eaten a healthy balanced diet low in red and processed meat and salt and high in vegetables, fruit, and fiber.
Keeping a healthy weight also could have prevented around 88,000 cases of cancer, the charity adds.
Cutting down on alcohol could prevent 12,800 cases per year in the United Kingdom, or around 4% of all new UK cancer cases each year, the charity says.
This is a little more than the cancers caused by excess exposure to sunlight: protecting skin from sun damage could prevent 11,500 cases per year in the United Kingdom, or around 3% of all new UK cancer cases each year.
In addition, the charity estimates that being active could prevent 3400 cancer cases per year in the United Kingdom, which is around 1% of all new UK cancer cases each year.
Linda Bauld, PhD, professor of health policy at Stirling University in Scotland, who also holds a chair in Behavioral Research for Cancer Prevention that involves a part-time secondment to Cancer Research UK to lead its cancer prevention initiative, commented in a statement: “There are more than 200 types of cancer each caused by a complex set of factors — involving both our genes and our lifestyles. There are proven ways to minimise our risk of cancer — like giving up smoking, being more active, drinking less alcohol and maintaining a healthy weight. We must make sure the public and the policy-makers know the evidence behind the benefits of these lifestyle changes is solid.”
Dryathlon for January
To encourage the nation to drink less, Cancer Research UK is running a “Dryathlon” in January, during which individuals are encouraged to give up drinking alcohol for the month and to donate the money they would have spent on drinks to cancer research. The campaign is being promoted on advertisements screened on television, as well as in the lay press.
The National Health Service has an annual campaign every October, which it calls Stop-tober, in which it encourages individuals to stop smoking and provides information on help with quitting, including stop-smoking products and apps. The challenge is to stop smoking for October, but the campaign notes: “Stop smoking for 28 days and you’re five times more likely to stop for good.”