Lifestyle factors can strongly influence the risk of developing certain diseases, such as cancer. Unfortunately it often takes a diagnosis before serious changes are made.
Nearly 40,000 cancers diagnosed in Australia can be prevented if people avoid known risk factors for the disease, according to new research from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research. In 2010, 116,850 Australians were diagnosed with invasive cancer. The new study identifies 13 areas where people can alter their lifestyle to prevent a third of these.
The main factors that accounted for preventable cancers were smoking, weight, ultraviolet radiation, alcohol and diet. These accounted for 90% of the cancers.
Modifiable risks accounting for the remaining 10% of cancers were:
- Red and processed meat
- Inadequate fibre intake
- Inadequate intake of vegetables
- Inadequate intake of fruit
- Inadequate physical activity
- Viral infections including hepatitis B and C, human papilloma virus, Epstein-Barr Virus and HIV.
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
- Oral contraceptives
- Inadequate breast feeding.
The researcher’s state that articles outlining the causes of some types of cancer often lead people to be complacent about modifying those aspects of their life. People take on the attitude of ‘everything causes cancer’ and don’t take the information as seriously. This study draws our attention back to the fact that around one third of them can be prevented by simple changes to lifestyle! The changes don’t have to be extreme and they don’t have to deprive people of all of life’s enjoyment. At the end of the day, preventing cancer will vastly improve quality of life, more so than eating whatever you like, smoking or not doing any exercise. The other good news is that many of the positive lifestyle behaviours for preventing cancer also apply to other lifestyle related disease such as diabetes and heart disease.
Risk factors considered for the report had to meet three conditions: be classified by the World Health Organization or the World Cancer Research Fund as a cause of at least one cancer type; be modifiable; and there had to be reliable data on numbers of Australians exposed to the particular risk.
“It’s about eating plenty of plant-based foods and fibre, being active, not drinking too much and trying to maintain as healthy a body weight as possible,” he said.
You could apply those recommendations to reducing the risk of diabetes and heart disease. It’s a common theme across many chronic diseases.
Simple dietary changes alone can decrease out risk of cancer. Most Australian’s don’t eat anywhere near enough fruit and vegetables or fibre – something that can be easily rectified.
The study suggests nearly 2,000 cancer cases diagnosed in Australia in 2010 were attributable to inadequate intakes of fruit and vegetables. Low levels of dietary fibre were responsible for at least 1,000 – and possibly up to 2,600 – bowel cancers.
Professor Sanchia Aranda, chief executive officer of Cancer Council Australia, which commissioned the study, said bowel cancer was a major issue in the country. The report showed red and processed meat were significant risk factors for bowel cancer, accounting for about 17% of all such new diagnoses in 2010. It states if Australian adults consumed less than 65 grams of red and processed meat per day, around 800 fewer cases of bowel cancer would have been diagnosed in 2010.
She also said there was a worrying rise in rates of liver cancer in Australia. The study showed the hepatitis virus contributed to around 30% of liver cancer diagnoses. But alcohol and tobacco were responsible for 13% and 21% respectively.
“But in France, recent reports suggest that about 50% of their liver cancer is due to drinking too much alcohol,” Professor Aranda said.
This study should be yet another warning for Australians to increase their vegetables and fruit and decrease intakes of alcohol and red meat. The study is not telling people to completely cut out desserts or pastas from their diet but rather to introduce more of the foods we are lacking from our diets and for a very good reason.
Overall, the study showed tobacco smoke to be the only risk factor with no safe level of intake, while there was no limit to recommended levels of fruit and vegetable consumption.
“The interesting thing about this is that it’s not saying to cut out anything,” said Tim Crowe. It’s really about having more of plant-based foods, and not going overboard on eating red meat.