These 7 Lifestyle Changes May Slash Lifetime Cancer Risk, Study Reveals

Healthy vibes only.

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Second only to heart disease, cancer sits high among the world’s unfortunate pantheon of fatal maladies. In the U.S. alone, more than one in three people in the U.S. will experience cancer in their lifetime. While not all cancers can be prevented, there are ways to slash your cancer risk, such as avoiding tobacco or maintaining a healthy weight.

Now a new study published Tuesday in the journal BMC Medicine is adding even more weapons to your cancer-preventing arsenal. And if you strictly follow this particular set of recommendations developed by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and the American Institute for Cancer Research (AIRC), you just might be able to significantly cut down on your risk for all sorts of different cancers at one go.

Adhere to the system

The WCRF/AICR first established a set of cancer prevention recommendations in 1997 based on available evidence at the time, which was then revamped in 2007. In 2018, another updated list of recommendations, called The Third Expert Report, was released. While this list originally contains nine lifestyle recommendations, the researchers excluded dietary supplements and breastfeeding criteria due to lack of scientific consensus. The resulting seven lifestyle recommendations include:

  • Be at a healthy weight.
  • Be physically active.
  • Eat a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans.
  • Limit consumption of “fast foods” and other processed foods high in fat, starches, or sugars
  • Limit your consumption of red and processed meats.
  • Limit your consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks.
  • Limit how much alcohol you drink.

Researchers in the U.K. and Chile combed through biomedical data from the U.K. Biobank of nearly 95,000 British adults with an average age of 56. The scientists assigned one point per recommendation for a total of seven points. Then, participants were assigned either zero, half, or one point, depending on each individual lifestyle regimen.

The study found that individuals who scored 4.5 points or higher had a 16 percent lower risk for all invasive cancers as well as 14 specific cancers strongly tied to diet, nutrition, and physical activity, such as prostate, breast, and stomach cancer.

Researchers assigned points by studying each individual’s body mass index and waist circumference measurements while also factoring in a participant’s age, gender, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity. Participants also self-reported physical activity, tobacco use or smoking history, and diet. Using cancer registry data to determine the rate at which new cancer cases emerged during an average eight-year timeframe, the researchers discovered that the average for adherence was 3.8 points, and during the eight years, 7,296 individuals (or nearly eight percent of total participants) developed cancer.

More Means Better

As you can imagine, the more recommendations followed, the better. The researchers found that with every one-point increment in recommendation adherence, there was an associated seven percent lower risk of cancer. This risk was even lower depending on the type of cancer: 10 percent for breast and colorectal, 18 percent for kidney, 16 percent for esophageal, 22 percent for liver, 24 percent for ovarian cancer, and a whopping 30 percent for gallbladder cancer.

The authors note that these results do not perfectly reflect the general population as participants tended to be “older, more often female and less socioeconomically deprived, and had ‘healthier’ lifestyles.” It’s also hard to say which of the seven recommendations had the greatest influence on lowering cancer risk, and the researchers say more studies are needed to examine these specific recommendations.

But in the meantime, it doesn’t hurt to eat more fiber or get your steps in to keep cancer at bay.

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