Do you want to reduce your risk of the BIG C? The media is full of articles and programmes telling us that we need to clean up our diets, exercise more and lose weight. Increasingly, science is confirming this and is showing how making good lifestyle choices is vital to reducing our risk of many cancers.
A 2019 study, published in the journal of Cancer Epidemiology1 looked at how changing our lifestyle choices could affect the incidence and mortality rate of 20 types of cancer. If all bad lifestyle choices (e.g. smoking, excessive alcohol use, poor diet, inactivity and being overweight) were eliminated it could be possible to prevent 26.5 percent of all cases of cancer and avoid 33.6 percent of all deaths caused by cancer.
This is just one of many similar studies that point to the important role of lifestyle choices in reducing the risk of cancer.
A 2014 study2 showed that diet contributes to 20% to 42% of all human cancers and 50% to 90% of colon cancer. The researchers stated that “Accumulating evidence suggests that lifestyle factors are one of the predominant components that modulate susceptibility to colon cancer” and “Diets rich in red and processed meats, refined starches, sugar, and saturated and trans-fatty acids but poor in fruits, vegetables, fiber, u-3 fatty acids, calcium, vitamin D, and whole grains are closely associated with an increased risk for colon cancer.”
This is borne out by numerous other studies that point to the fact that a diet rich in whole grains, oily fish, fruit and vegetables, and low in red meat, processed, fast and junk foods has significant benefits in reducing the risk of all types of cancer.
Look at what studies are saying about how powerful fruits and vegetables are in helping us reduce the risk of cancer:
- A 2018 study published in the Journal of Food and Drug Analysis3 suggests that phloretin, a compound found in apples, significantly inhibits the growth of breast cancer cells, while not affecting normal cells.
- Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, kale, cabbage and Brussels sprouts have potent anticancer compounds. A 2018 review of studies4 showed that sulforaphane, a compound in these vegetables, significantly inhibits cancer cell growth and stimulates cell death in colon cancer cells. Just eating one serving a week, compared to those who ate none or only occasionally, resulted in “a significantly reduced risk of oral cavity, pharynx, esophageal, colorectal, breast, and kidney cancer.” However, the best anti-cancer benefits were obtained by eating 3-5 servings a week.
- Beta-carotene, found in carrots, was found to reduce the risk of breast and prostate cancer and can even reduce the risk of recurrence5.
- A diet high in oily fish, like salmon, sardines, mackerel and anchovies, which are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, has been found to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer by 53 percent6, reduce the risk of prostate cancer7 and, incredibly, taking an Omega 3 supplement at least four times a week was shown to lower the risk of colon cancer by 63 percent8.
These are just a few examples of research that shows how important our diet is in reducing our risk of cancer.
Other factors which increase our risk of cancer are being overweight and inactivity. The same study2 mentioned above had this to say “Other main features of the Western lifestyle, such as excess body mass and sedentary behaviors, are also strongly associated with higher risk for developing colon cancer.”
A 2016 overview9 looked at the effect of being overweight and cancer risk. The researchers said “Besides the well-established effects on type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, there is convincing evidence today that obesity also increases the risk of several types of cancer, including colorectal cancer, postmenopausal breast cancer, endometrial cancer, renal cell carcinoma, esophageal adenocarcinoma, pancreatic cancer, and liver cancer. Obesity probably also increases the risk of ovarian cancer, advanced prostate cancer, gallbladder cancer, and gastric cardia cancer.”
Physical activity is just as important. Just getting moving can significantly reduce the risk of cancer, as well as helping with weight reduction.
One study10, involving over 750 000 individuals over a 10 year period, showed that increased physical activity reduced the risk of seven types of cancer by up to 27%.
Another study11 showed that women who walk at least 7 hours per week had a 14 percent reduction in breast cancer risk. Those who did a minimum of 1 hour of vigorous exercise every day reduced their risk by an incredible 25 percent!
The bottom line is that the choices we make every day will play a huge role in our risk of getting cancer, as well as heart disease, strokes, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. When we consider that the risk reduction may be cumulative when we eat a good diet, control our weight and exercise regularly, it makes good sense to make positive choices.
So starting today, take a good hard look at the choices you are making every day and start making changes if you need to. Even small changes can make a huge difference.